After reading about religion for 13 years, it occurred to me I might not come up with all the answers in my lifetime. You know, since, for thousands upon thousands of years, people much smarter than me had been working on this without an obvious consensus. I mean, what chance did I have? So I figured I might as well not wait for perfect enlightenment to get to do that whole Practicing Religion thing, but hitch up to a faith community for the journey. I had tried just NOT doing religion, but that hadn’t worked for me. I didn’t believe enough that direction either. If I hadn’t taken it on, I just would have continued reading and wrestling and obsessing till I died. And don’t get me wrong, I still do all those things! Just, you know, WITH my religion.
My church was the best place to start. It was as open-minded as open-minded can get. I didn’t have to believe anything. Not about Jesus or morality or dogma or squat. And that might sound kind of airy-fairy pointless but it wasn’t. Because there was a total passion for Jesus and the Bible and Christian tradition. The people there reintroduced me to all of that, and made it fascinating. I was learning all the time, especially about the ancient world and some context for all those troubling parts of the Bible. And yes, that thing is troubling. And gorgeous! And horrifying. And exciting. Let’s just say, there’s a lot going on.
Meanwhile, I was marrying Andy. I loved that any couple could get married at my church. Then I found myself weirdly disappointed that any couple could get married at my church. As in, Andy and I didn’t have to deal with any premarital counseling. We didn’t have to prove to anyone we were prepared for marriage. It wasn’t of concern. Now, look, I was marrying the best, easiest, wonderfulest person on the planet anyone could possibly marry and we were grown-ass adults. Why on earth did I so desperately want to be interrogated for months before I could do it? I could not explain it. And why did I feel awkward that I had to ask for a fidelity clause to be included in the vows? Weird, old-fashioned personality quirk, I guessed.
Do you know how hard it is to find a Biblical passage to read at your wedding? Let’s see, Adam and Eve, a couple of Proverbs about a good wife that probably wouldn’t apply to me (“…prudent wife…noble character…”). Some stuff about submission: mutual, yes, but still not great wedding material. Then Jesus says just don’t get divorced, people, and then Paul says, heck, get married if you HAVE to, I mean, so you’re not distracted by all your LUST, you know, and there. That’s the Bible on marriage. I should have gone with Deuteronomy 24:5 –
“If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.”
Aw, yeah. But on the whole, it did make me wonder where all the Christian Family Value talk came from. The Bible has a bunch of rules for marriages that would be illegal (not to mention immoral) today and then a few dudes talking about how nice it would be if more people could just be celibate. I mean, seriously! Where were all the conservatives getting this?
Well, dear reader, I married him, and life went on.
I would go to Bible studies and other classes and continue reading at home and it was all grand. It’s kind of awesome when it turns out that everything that always bugged you about Christianity doesn’t have a solid theological basis and God actually agrees with everything you thought about life in the first place! And, yes, I could see what I was doing there, creating God in my own image and all that. In fact, I’d done it many times over the years when trying to work out how the world works, so don’t go and blame my church. But, man, I could back it up with some good arguments. Don’t you understand that homosexual activity in the ancient world is a completely different thing than what we’re talking about now? Do you realize how little is said about hell, and that they’re really talking about the local child-sacrifice-turned-garbage-dump valley? You get that there are several different genres of writing in the Bible, and it doesn’t present itself as an Instruction Manual for All Time, right?
And, well, I still essentially stand by that, but…I was a bit self-righteous. Well, wouldn’t you be if you were more enlightened than the ignorant masses? Sigh. Thankfully, at the same time, church was the one moment in the week where I was reminded I wasn’t the center of the world. I’d sit down in that lovely sanctuary and be taken down a couple of notches, in the best way. It’s still working on me. I have a long way to go. But it helped.
One day in Bible study, one of the pastors asked us if it mattered whether the resurrection literally physically happened or not. I was dumbfounded. I may not have had the most solid belief, but I wanted my church to! Or at least recognize that even if you think it’s unknowable, that it would in fact make a huge difference if Jesus managed to come back from the dead, as opposed to just leaving a nice, fuzzy legacy that made people feel like he was still with them. I think it would have mattered to the disciples too. I mean, let’s think this through. You’re a bunch of uneducated, sometimes dense, sometimes cowardly dudes who have given up everything to follow this guy, and then he goes and gets executed in the most brutal, humiliating way possible and you are laying the fuck low so the same does not happen to you. Now, it’s entirely possible that after the crazy shit dies down, and you’ve still got a dead friend, you talk amongst yourselves and say, “That guy had some really insightful stuff to say about life. We should remember it and share it with everyone, because the world would be a better place if people acted like he said they should.” I can buy that. But they didn’t. These terrified and broken men started shouting from the rooftops: “Holy fuck, you guys! He came back from the dead! Fix your lives, cause this is a game changer!!!” And then they went and told as many people as possible, establishing churches in their wake, until they were killed for it.
That’s the part I can’t make sense of if the guy was still dead. Nobody’s that confused. Not en masse.
(Now, we could just call into question the veracity of the gospel accounts in the first place, but this last part is the generally historically accepted view of how the church started: dudes running around claiming Jesus’ resurrection and church planting. I understand questioning the claims of the gospels, but I think logic would eliminate us tossing the whole thing aside as some first century dudes’ Fiction That We’re Totally Making Up To Oppress People With Even Though It Will Take Us a Few Centuries Of Being Totally Oppressed Ourselves Before We Can Go Do All That Oppressing We Really Want To.)
So basically, I was having the surreal experience of being a raging liberal having strange conservative flashes in my church.
Next up, probably: I continue to confuse myself.