Sunday, December 18, 2011

Assessment of My Re-Exploration of Christian Spirituality

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
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Here is a brief assessment I composed recently to gauge where I am after a 18 months of re-exploring Christian spirituality (which doesn't count some previous reading on the topic):

  1. 1. I don't "believe" in God the way that phrase is generally understood among Christians in the United States, and in fact my view would be closer to something recognizable somewhere between Buddhism and certain forms on Hinduism. Of course, there is no singular way to any and all people of any religious affiliation (even the irreligious) understand or relate to the concept of God, but there is a tendency in contemporary Christianity to see God as a super-person or super-mind who is a cosmic puppeteer. 

  2. Despite the denials of some with regard to this image in favor of a less anthropomorphic or external God, that is, despite a rejection God as a deity, there is still that tendency to try to sneak that kind of theistic miracle-maker and throne-sitter, the "big-guy-in-the-sky", back into the picture. It seems like an awful lot of linguistic twisting and mental gymnastics to try to embrace and deny something at the same time.

  3. I don't "believe" in Jesus the way that phrase is normally understood, wherein Jesus is a singular and sole manifestation of God in humanity or that his death or resurrection are going to "save" people from hell in some kind of divine transaction of cosmic justice. As with my thoughts on God, more details on this topic from a number of posts can be found listed here.

  4. There are some rare views out there on Jesus that make more sense to me, but they are far from mainstream and they are heavily influenced by Eastern thought and spirituality. The question then becomes, to what extent do we remake God and the Gospels in our own image, either by emphasizing or ignoring certain parts of the teachings or practices of Christianity (selective perception and secondary elaboration) or by having a different interpretive lens through which we understand these things?

    And who determines whether this is valid? How? When? At what point is the message no longer useful? Recognizable? At one point is it determined that this tradition is not a good fit and should be abdandoned?

  5. I don't care for the idea of establishing peace through any kind of threat or actual violence, whether it is mental, verbal or physical violence, and whether it is directed toward people or thoughts. Using violence to achieve justice as a foundation for peace is part of the Biblical narrative that is found in both the Old and New Testaments, wherein after a period of grace and rebuke and chances to repent of an indifference to God and others that leads to harm of self and others, the enemies of peace and justice are subdued and condemned by God's wrath.

  6. It seems to me that many Christians who want to emphasize the patience and forgiveness and love and non-violence of Jesus as the final and highest virtues of God and humanity neglect the context of this larger narrative as well as the teachings and images of the New Testament that frame the Gospels within this narrative. When some of these Christians pray for deliverance, justice and the second coming of Christ, it seems as if they are ignoring (or ignorant of) the Biblical context of how God delivers these things and the passionate vengeance with which they are to be brought about.

    Yes, one can appeal to allegory and see these images as a symbolic representation our own inner landscape, but this gets back to the previous issue of how we interpret the narrative, how it is has been interpreted by the communities of Christians in the past, and how far a particular interpretation falls from the accepted standard of these communities, both traditional and contemporary. This may seem less relevant in more individualistic modern views of nearly everything in societies such as the United States, but it is very important to the communal nature of religion in its proper context.
  7. I frequently don't find the Psalms, which have been called God's own prayer, the heart and soul of the Church, and similar descriptions, to be appealing, insightful, enlightening, or otherwise spiritually beneficial. I do not understand how repeating prayers which include hate, spite, gloating, rage, triumphalist nationalism, and the like are supposed to bring one closer to God unless God endorses these things for the sake of holiness and righteousness.

  8. I don't agree with significant portions of traditional church language and its implicit theology suggesting things such as a permanent distinction and chasm between humanity and God. This is I suppose a continuation of observation #1 above.

  9. I get nothing out of performing the Daily Office or participating in the liturgy and sacrament of the Eucharist; that is, no sense of connection, no consolation, no change of perspective or emotional state, etc. Of course, given my hang-ups from the first five observations, this really isn't surprising, but for those who think that these things are magical, that they attain their sacred power outside of the heart and mind of the participant(s), well, the magical powers seem to have failed. Which of course requires more elaboration about why it should have worked and why it didn't in this case.

  10. I am embarrassed on a regular basis by people in the news who identify themselves as Christian. I though that needed to be added because it really does color the whole enterprise.

Well, it's a relatively quick overview, but basically, while I have come to a much more informed and sympathetic view of Christianity and of individual Christians, of the history of the Church and the variety and subtlety of its theology and practices, on some level my perspective, personality, disposition, or what have you is not aligned with the people and religions that identify themselves as Christian.

It really seems as if a significant part of my experience has been an exercise in intellectual curiosity over a sociological and psychological puzzle, namely, how do some people involved in the contemplative and mystical aspects of Christianity and who are part of respectful and informed interfaith dialogue and friendship come to be that way? Is there some deeper, less intolerant and more liberating aspect of Christianity than I had been previously acquainted with?

I think the answer is that yes, there is. But I also feel like one has to be wary of a false image which one can gleam from the writings and talks of these open-minded and generous authors and teachers. There is a pitfall in which one can become myopically focused on a narrow part of the Judeo-Christian teachings that are most compatible with common spiritual wisdom from other traditions, such as Buddhism.

Yes, there are a great number of similarities in both the letter and the spirit of Christianity and other sacred traditions. And yes, the more "spiritually mature" or "advanced" among the contemplatives of these various traditions seem to be saying virtually identical things and may indeed be approaching a realization of some common ultimate truth or reality. However, important differences remain, reflecting not only historical and cultural differences but perhaps shared psychological dispositions, life histories, and emotional needs as well.

I don't think I have been intentionally deceived into pursuing an unrealistic or unsustainable view of Christianity. My experience is an artifact of the context in which certain ideas have been promoted and my own desire to emphasize such similarities with other religions. What the end result of this pursuit will be is still unclear, but I have learned that without regular sober and uncomfortably honest assessments of where one stands in her pursuits, meaningful progress and growth is delayed if not inhibited altogether.

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  1. Well if you are not going to fashion yourself out of my mold what damn good are you? Seriously, I guess you are not just the kind of person to whom the conventional appeals. That doesn't mean you haven't found God in an unconventional way.

    Marry Christmas Man.

  2. I don't think it has to do with the appeal of conventional truths, it has more to do with actually examining such truths rather than just reacting to them or passively accepting them.

    I think too many people feel that religion and spirituality are supposed to be easy and lack any kind of engagement. In this case the eighties slogan fits: No pain, no gain.

    Happy holidays to you as well.

  3. I find one thing I've been a Christian now since 1979 that's 33 years or so. After all this time it's hard to remember the early struggles but I did wrestle with all that stuff. I relate to what you are saying about people religion religion to be all warm fuzzy and positive lolly pops and sometimes it's the dark night of the soul.

    I sent you an email. I wish you would answer your phone sometime.

  4. You had a personal revelation and direct experience of what you believed to be contact with a higher power. You attributed this experience to the Christian construction of God. That is a part of your own story, a story that you feel fits best within the larger tapestry of the Christian narrative. This isn't true of everyone's story.

  5. "You had a personal revelation and direct experience of what you believed to be contact with a higher power. You attributed this experience to the Christian construction of God. That is a part of your own story, a story that you feel fits best within the larger tapestry of the Christian narrative. This isn't true of everyone's story."

    true and I don't generally hold others accountable for not accepting my story. But I'm not the only one with that story. I have come around to a sort of universalism telling of it that allows for respect for other faiths. I have made room the mystical concept that God is beyond our understanding. Since God is beyond our understanding who am I to say to someone else "no you didn't get it, your deal isn't right?"

    Nevertheless I still have my own relationship with that which I understand to be God. So I can't make so much room for others that I become false to my own story.

  6. "I still have my own relationship with that which I understand to be God. So I can't make so much room for others that I become false to my own story."

    Nor should you. Be well.


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