Yesterday I started explaining what it was I believed when I left fundamentalism but remained a committed Christian – one who realized that the Bible was not at all an infallible book but was still a person of faith. I’ve never talked about any of this before in print, either on the blog or in any of my books. One reason for wanting to do so now is that I think I must have given some people the false impression that I went from being a fundy to being an agnostic in one step, that once I came to see that my fundamentalist views were just wrong, I immediately became a non-believer, having no other options to fall back on. In fact it didn’t happen that way, at all. I was a committed Christian for many years after giving up on conservative evangelicalism. Here is more of what I believed at the time.
- The ultimate teaching of the Gospel was love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Jesus not only taught this ethic and lived it in his interactions with others: he died for it. Jesus’ death for me at the time (and still, of course) was a very real historical event. He really did get crucified by Pontius Pilate. I thought there were probably very clear and certain historical reasons for this. But the Christian *interpretation* of that event (the “myth” behind it, as I would have expressed it to myself at the time) was that this was an act of supreme self-sacrifice of one person for another. That’s what it means really to love others. It means to be willing to give up your life if need be.
- And that’s how much God loves his people. He is willing to give up his own son for the sake of others. At the time I certainly had problems with the various “atonement” theologies on offer. If pushed I would have probably said that on one level it was very disturbing indeed to think that God needed someone to be tortured to death for the sake of others. Why not just forgive them? But that wasn’t the point for me at the time. The point was that both God and Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for others (God his son; his son his life), and I too should be willing to sacrifice my life for others (hopefully in some rather less extreme way!), instead of being completely self-centered and self-aggrandizing.
- At that time I probably still thought that God had literally…To read the rest of this post you need to belong to the blog. If you don’t belong yet, JOIN already!!! It’ won’t cost much (less than 50 cents/week) and every bit of your membership fee goes to help those in need.
- At that time I probably still thought that God had literally raised Jesus, bodily, from the dead. But it wasn’t a doctrine that I was wedded to or that I thought was ultimately the most important (or that could be proven one way or the other). What mattered was the idea *behind* the doctrine. The resurrection of Jesus was a story that told of God’s ultimate triumph over evil. All the pain and excruciating suffering of the world would be reversed, just as God reversed Jesus’ pain and suffering in the story of the resurrection. This, for me, was a matter of faith – believing that God really would do it, as reflected in this beautiful story of the resurrection.
- I certainly didn’t believe that Jesus was literally coming back from heaven on the clouds. That was simply a Christian way of saying that God would ultimately have the last word, that the apocalyptic message was true, that everything that was wrong would eventually be made right – almost certainly in some way that I could not understand.
- The Bible for me was obviously, at this time, not an inerrant revelation from God. It was a deeply flawed book, when looked at historically and critically. It was written by humans, who are all deeply flawed themselves. They make mistakes. They have different opinions, views, perspectives, and beliefs. They disagree with one another. All of that is reflected in the Bible. But, at the same time, the Bible also, for me at the time, was, in some very important sense, “inspired.” It certainly inspired me. The Bible was written by a number of religious geniuses (not all of them were geniuses of course, but, for example, Paul and Mark and John were). Their thoughts, reflections, views, perspectives, stories, claims demanded my thoughtful attention. They could provide insights for me into the character of God, the human condition, the nature of the world. They could provide deep and profound reflections on how I should live and what I should think. They were at the very foundation of my faith tradition, and by reflecting on what they said I could be both a better person and a more faithful Christian.
- I continued to believe that there was life after death. I think I thought at the time that if this life was all there is, there would be no reason to continue to be religious, no reason to believe in God, no reason to strive to be a good person. I didn’t know what the afterlife would entail; but I did not think we would all simply be unconsciously smashed into the cosmic shmuck as undifferentiated and no longer personal beings. I believed I would still exist, in some sense, personally after death.
- But I was more focused on life in the here and now. I had especially come to think that faith was to have clear and definite social consequences. If what God shows in the Bible is that he is chiefly concerned about the hungry, the homeless, those without clothing, those who are sick, and lonely, and outcast, and abused by society, and lonely, and … and about everyone who is in need (more than for those who are wealthy, influential, and powerful) that this too is what I, as a believer, should be concerned about. And these concerns have very clear and practical political implications. Any social or political stands I took, I came to believe, had to reflect these values. Politics was not a matter of making things better for *me* personally. Politics was about figuring out ways for us as a people to implement the priorities of God, focusing not on self-advancement but on the good of others, especially those who are in desperate need.
- As should be clear from some of what I’ve said, I had come to think at this point in my life that it was absolutely all right not to have the answers to all the probing questions about life and death, about the world, about Christ, about God. I had come to think that the difficult questions are far, far more important than the easy answers. That it is OK not to know. That it is fine to spend life wrestling with competing truths rather than declaring one solution to every hard problem or issue. That it is absolutely all right to doubt. Even doubt deeply. Even doubt about the most fundamental things.
- And so, Christian faith for me was not about having all the answers. It was about believing that ultimately God would have the last say. It was about living a life that reflected the life of Jesus, the model of God. And it was about and thinking about the implications of faith for this short span of life that has been allotted to us.
OK, I could say more, but this is the heart of what it was I had come to believe. If anyone has any questions about it all, let me know. In later posts I will explain why I left these views to become an agnostic.11