**This blog post has been written in my journal, emailed to my best friend, and scribbled on napkins for the past six months… it has been an ongoing process, thinking and praying and trying to figure out where my head is. This is sort of the compilation and resolution to how this projected has affected me personally over the past eighteen months.**
It was never supposed to get personal. You see, I started out this project with a set of beliefs and values. I wasn’t willing to compromise them or [disbelieve] them, and I wasn’t thinking that even the consideration of those prospects would be a problem. I thought that I could happily maintain my own belief system while objectively reporting on the beliefs of others.
I mean, granted, I was willing to see God in a new way. I was willing to explore the spiritual practices of other groups, and incorporate some of their views on God into my own theology, if the occasion arose where those beliefs did not clash with the beliefs that I already had. I was even willing to go so far as to say that what was right for me is not necessarily right for everyone, and their beliefs could be right for them and wrong for me. But I knew what I believed and my foundation wasn’t going to shift. ((I thought.))
Islam was my first religion to study. It came to me easily. They incorporated my own prophets from the Old and New Testament. They had some funny rules,
but their stories were vastly similar. They believed in Adam and Eve (although they didn’t believe in original sin). They believed in mother Mary (although they didn’t believe Jesus was/is God). They believed in my Jesus, as a prophet, much like their own prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). Their teachings were of love and compassion and submission and I could identify with the beauty in their holy text. They worshipped Allah, but he was the same as my God, the God who created the world, who spent centuries seeking a relationship with us (his people) and pursuing our love. Of course, I didn’t agree with many of the cultural infusions within Islam for myself, like the idea that women should be completely covered, or the justification of the Prophet to have many wives, or to kill innocent people in villages who didn’t agree with him. I didn’t feel that the Arabic culture was a fit for myself, but I could understand how many identified with the black and white structured rules and contexts of Islam. There was direction within the Qura’n for every aspect of life and living, and I could completely understand how that prospect of understanding exactly how to please God would be attractive.
Catholicism was next, and as I read their text and teachings, again, I saw the similarities between Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism. I admired the tradition in the Catholic church. The intricate structure of leadership. The teachings and saints. I loved how their priests and nuns abandoned all in reckless pursuit of Christ. I loved their prayers and was comforted by the Hail Mary and the Apostles Creed. Praying to saints seemed to me to be an easy step, because, they weren’t really worshipping their saints, they were just praying – talking – to them. Confession was a brilliant concept, and I believed, from a psychological point of view, that it would do the confessor good to get those wrongdoings off his chest. I loved reading about St. Teresa of Avila who described ecstatic encounters with her Lord: her descriptions of almost merging with God in beautiful love were incredible and undeniably rapturous. I was fascinated. I was struck by other saints, like St. Francis who gave up wealth and fame when he heard a sermon that changed his life and ambition. He walked barefoot through the villages proclaiming God’s love and the need for repentance. Never mind that it seemed he had had some sort of psychotic break that caused this crazy behavior! It was God, changing his life, and he was full of cheer and songs as he embraced a life of poverty and lack. It was ok, all he needed was Jesus! He was full of compassion and peace, and his prayer made my heart swell with intention to follow his example:
Evangelical Christianity was next, and it was my own religion, so I was excited ((and fearful)) to study it from an objective viewpoint. I talked to women and, for one of the first times in my life, I found transparency and authenticity in the women I talked to who were Christian. I happened to connect with a group of women who were so open and honest that it shocked and pleased me. I heard them talk about Jesus’ love, and God saving them from their lives. I listened and got tears in my eyes as they talked about their pain and the way that a relationship with God had changed them, had healed them, had given them hope, purpose, and a home. I heard humans who were yearning for this divine connection and were seeking it in the ways they could.
I started on Mormonism with a fascination for their beliefs (which were far off the beaten path for me, thus far.) While Islam closely reflects Judaism and Christianity in teaching, Mormonism was the same to a point… and then they took a sharp left and added entire portions unreflected elsewhere to their beliefs. It was like reading the Bible, then suddenly vearing off into Lord of the Rings. I read the history of Mormonism with some disbelief that a [common criminal] like Joseph Smith could somehow turn a money scheme into a religion. I studied his ideas and I could not find any way to make them believable for myself. They were not just guidance and ideas, they entire historical constructs about peoples who existed, events in history, and genetic composition of entire races…
His “revelations” about how to live life were just as unbelievable to me: he believed God called him to have multiple wives, and yet the Mormon church rejected that teaching less than 100 years later. He believed that there was a promised land in Missouri, no, Illinois, no, Kansas… and each time he was wrong and moved on. He talked people into giving him their life savings so that he could finish “translating” a book written on metal plates that not a single person saw besides himself. No less, he could not read, and was not educated, and the plates were in ancient reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics (which, given his education level, had to be just a guess). God lived on a planet named Kolob with thousands of spirit wives and spirit children. Seeing stones in a hat allowed Joseph to
make up translate the Book of Mormon 100% accurately (even though his track record of using the seeing stone was not so good so far – he had used it on numerous occasions prior to this to tell the future, or tell where lost or hidden things were, and he had not been correct even once!) It was all too wild, too unbelievable for me. It was blowing my mind that the group I thought I had the most in common with (I mean, we were all Christians) were the ones who made me completely question not only their faith, but my own!
On the other hand, the Mormons I had met were selfless and giving. They were open and loving and relational. They clearly loved Jesus, and more, they did what their religion dictated: going out into the world to make disciples. They might believe some things that were hard to swallow, but there was no denying that they were morally upright, generous, and had servant attitudes – gladly offering to mow my lawn or clean out my gutters, when I wasn’t even a member of their church! Something had changed them, and formed them into this amazing group of people, and they all credited the teachings of Joseph Smith.
But then I started thinking about my own religious stories. Were the Mormon ideas of special undergarments so very different from the Old Testament ideas? No. Was the Muslim rule that boys should pee sitting down more far-fetched than the Jewish law that men should not shave the corners of their beard? And were the stories of Joseph Smith’s miraculous vision of angels and gift of golden tablets really that different from Jacob’s vision of a staircase to heaven and wrestling with an angel who knocked out his hip? My own stories, in my own Bible were just as crazy, they were just more familiar. Did Noah really get the prize as the only righteous man and spend 40 years building an ark and collecting two of each of 10 million species of animal to go inside? And then, was this righteous man so righteous that he spent the entire time after the flood drunk and naked? Was God really SO ANGRY at two cities that he burned them down, men, women and children? And was it so terrible that Lot’s wife was literally turned into a life-sized human salt lick?
Would God ask Abraham to kill his only son, after giving that son to him in the first place?
Did he part the Red Sea and allow all the people of Israel to walk across on dry land, then kill all the Egyptians with the water?
Was it possible to walk on water? Turn water into wine? Why would someone drive evil spirits out of men and into pigs, wasn’t that cruel to the pigs??? Why was it ok for Solomon to have thousands of wives and mistresses, but he was considered the wisest of all men? What in the world is going on in the book of Revelation?
I had so many questions and exactly zero answers.
Logically, I could see how these stories evolved – the Bible was made up of centuries of oral tradition, stories told verbally and passed down from generation to generation. Changed up a little by each teller, added to in some places, taken away from in others. Sitting around the campfire, it sounds so much more interesting to say that the people of Israel walked around Jericho once, then twice, then three times they walked. Four times, they walked around the walls of the enormous fortified city. Five times, and the city’s residents were taunting them. Six times they circled the city. Seven times, and then BAM! The city just collapses into the ground. That story is suspenseful and intriguing and shows the power of God!
And what about all the books that were left OUT of the Bible as we know it? The prophets who weren’t included? What about the books in the New Testament, the Gnostic Gospels or Mary Magdalene, or of Thomas, that weren’t included because perhaps they showed something that seemed a little out of character of gave women too much of a voice? Are you telling me that the Bible that I have 4 copies of in my home is the absolute perfect, infallible, inspired and COMPLETE word of God?
It was too much for me to believe. If I was examining Christianity as an outsider, trying to figure out what they believed, and I came across this creative and perfectly thrilling roll of stories with heroes and villains and suns standing still, and wars in the heavenlies, and giants and creatures of the deep and dragons with seven horns and virgins magically conceiving – I could not look at it and rationally believe it all to be true and factual. Interesting, yes. Fascinating, even. Entertaining and instructional. But not fact. Not historically accurate. No way.
When I had this thought on May 16, 2011, I was horrified. If I don’t believe the Bible to be true in every sense of the word, this means that my foundation has been shaken. Everything that I accepted as truth is not true at all. The “history” has been colored so that it is nearly unrecognizable. If I don’t believe in the infallible Bible, then I can’t be a Christian. The thought was horrifying. I didn’t want to lose my Christian faith. But I could not sit there and say that I believed in 3 people who were actually one person who was actually a deity who was God. I couldn’t say that I believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt (and lets face it, there was a lot more than a SHADOW), that Jesus was half God half man and was born to a VIRGIN after she and her fiancé were visited by angels. I couldn’t say that I believed that Jonah got swallowed by a whale or that God made Eve out of Adam’s rib, or that the tree of eternal life ever existed – Homer was more convincing than the Bible, and I was horrified by this discovery.
If I couldn’t say that any of that was for sure true, or even relatively close to true, then what was I supposed to do? Did God even exist? Did Jesus? Had I been wasting my days on this planet trying to understand a non-existent being? Were everyone’s beliefs so different because it didn’t really matter – they were ALL MADE UP?
I was sitting in Starbucks a few nights later with Faith, a friend and Jehovah’s Witness who I was about to interview, and I start telling her some of my problems. She is listening in understanding and sympathy for my plight. A young man sitting next to me taps me on the shoulder and tells me he has overheard what I said about not knowing if any of it is real. He says that he doesn’t know much about the Bible, or the other religions I’m talking about, but that he knows from his own personal experience that the name of Jesus is powerful. He recounts a story. Three days ago, he was in jail, sitting there, having lost his job and very depressed. He prayed to Jesus and since he didn’t know what to pray, he just prayed that Jesus would make him happy. Thirty minutes later, he gets released from jail (seven days early). He has two job offers that very night to replace the job that he lost in jail. He doesn’t know much, but he knows that the name of Jesus is miraculous and healing and has changed his life.
But, I want to ask, are you REALLY changed? Don’t you think it took more than 30 minutes to put through the papers for your release, so don’t you think that before you even prayed that prayer, it was in the works? Don’t you think that the fact that you sent out resumes with intention to get a job resulted in the two job offers? Maybe not the son of God intervening in your life? And are you really different than you were? Are you going to go out and do the same stupid things and make the same stupid mistakes and land yourself back in jail in 2 months, 6 months, a year? And if you do, is that Jesus too? Or is it only Jesus when it’s a good thing?
Faith smiles at me and at the boy and tells me that it takes time and faith and study. Is it a coincidence that the person I am seeing during my crisis of faith is named FAITH?
Can disbelief and faith co-exist?
Indeed, the first described my crisis exactly: the inability to accept something as true.
And I could have faith in the sense that I trust in a force greater than myself, in a reason for being here, in a purpose and a destiny. But belief that is not based on proof? Do I NEED proof to have faith in the principles of the Bible?
In reality, I do believe that the Bible teaches principles that are excellent and proven: love your neighbor as yourself. This leads to a happy and fulfilled, peaceful coexistence in the world. I do believe that you should not murder or steal. I believe that Jesus represented for us the relationship that God wants to have with us. But almost all of my beliefs that are Biblical are because of proof: I can see how they work, how it is a good way to live, how they make for a better world and a better life.
I am not a Biblical literalist, but I don’t believe I have to be, in order to have a relationship with God and with Jesus. There are many things I accept on faith alone, without tangible proof of it’s existence.
Love, certainly. I feel love, I love my children, I love Mark, I believe they love me back. I can’t point at one thing other than the words “I love you” that would be proof positive that Love exists, yet I believe.
I believe in hope. Hope itself is faith in the positive and better future for myself and my children.
I believe in evil and good, although neither are necessarily quantifiable and both are certainly relative.
John 13:35 says “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” But does the fact that they love (or don’t love) one another really prove that they are his disciples? Can you love and NOT be his disciple? Maybe that is impossible and that is what Jesus was trying to say – you are his disciple when you love.
I believe that there is more to this world than my limited eyes can see. I believe there are mysteries everywhere we turn, and I DO believe that things exist that I cannot prove, but are still very real: fear, shame, love, trust, faith, courage, amazement, joy.
What I came to realize through my crisis of faith, which has lasted roughly 6 months, is this: I believe in God. I can’t see him, but I can feel him. I can’t touch him with my hands, but I can touch him with my heart. I dream about ascending to a place where we can dance together. I have been healed and moved, simply by his mercy and grace. So maybe I’m not a Biblical literalist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a passionate God-chaser, and absolutely bowled over by his love for me. I don’t think you have to be all-or-nothing with God, I think he meets you where you are and walks with you down the path toward understanding him more… and someday maybe I’ll figure out if all those stories are true. But they don’t have to be, for me to know I love God and I am proud to call myself a Christian. God smiles at me a little bit, I bet, trying to wrap my head around all the things I don’t understand, but I think he is proud of me for trying.