Yesterday, I posted something on Facebook that I feel needs some clarification. In a small fit of frustration with the state of religious affairs in our country, I said that I was an atheist that follows Jesus. While I still believe that to be true, I’m afraid I wasn’t clear. What I meant to say was that I am, as writer Frank Schaeffer puts it, an atheist who still believes in God.
First of all, let me begin by saying that my problem with Christianity has to do with a very specific evangelical, fundamentalist view of what it means to be a Christian and even more specifically, what we are talking about when we are talking about God.
Over the course of time, I am going to be exploring not only the language we use to talk about God but what this language means when we look at the Christian life as a whole. The evangelical tradition that my family came to when I was thirteen had an effect on my worldview, my marriage, my relationship with my own children, and my self-worth that was and continues to be monumental.
I have had friends suggest that I chuck the whole “religion thing” and just love my neighbor since that is the core message of the namesake of my faith. But I cannot do that. Religion, for me and for so many, is a language that I use to try to make sense of that which is more than me. I know that there is something beyond me, and what that is continues to reside in mystery. What I do know is that the “mysterious more,” as the late writer, teacher, lecturer and theologian Dr. Marcus Borg puts it, is not what American Christianity has made it out to be, namely, “God.”
I put God in quotes there because I want to emphasize the problematic way in which many Christians in the United States refer to that mysterious more that cannot be named.
Western Christianity sees God as a Being, a being with a capital “B” who is “out there” somewhere, intervening or not in ways that never make sense and must be understood as mysterious, yet mysterious only because it is not ours to ask why.
For western Christianity, God and the Bible function as idols in the exact same way in which the Jews of the Old Testament gave in to foreign idols and were blinded by their false worship.
When we talk about God in this way, as a Being, we are talking about God as a bigger version of ourselves—if we are finite, God is infinite; if we are mortal, God is immortal; if we are limited in our knowledge, God’s knowledge is infinite. Swiss theologian Karl Barth says when we talk about God in this way, we are talking about ourselves with a megaphone.
Thinking about God this way is a way of legitimizing our world and our system of beliefs. If we have the correct system and follow the rules of that system well enough, God will be happy with us and will let us into the place out there where “He” dwells. This God justifies our wars, our discriminations, our treatment of the Planet, and our ways of life.
When God is seen as a being (or, as Peter Rollins has said, a super being) God is a projection. We project a bigger version of our understanding and measure our worth and worthiness against that projection.
I have come to understand God in my life not as a projection but as a projectile—a force that is constantly, and not always gently, smashing ideas of who is right and wrong, what is good and bad, what is just and unjust.
For me, as a follower of Christ, I see in Jesus what a life filled with God looks like. I see a man who was called the Messiah, but who, at the time, was one of many, many men who was called by that name. The difference was in how he ruptured the system in ways that didn’t make sense. He loved the poor, healed the sick, and counted the lowliest of the low as the most important among all who lived.
When I reached the crossroads of my faith, I knew I could no longer continue to see God through the lenses of my former evangelical spectacles. At the same time, I could not give up my quest to know God more fully and live according to the ways of Jesus. I am broken and beaten, but I am also valuable and useful. I am also worth it and so are you.
If you would like to stop in from time to time on my journey to understand what it is we are talking about when we are talking about God, I invite you with my arms wide open.
My desire is to help as many people as I can who are searching for a different understanding of God than the one that no longer makes sense to them. That is my quest for myself, and I hope you will join me along the way.
I implore you to not give up. Continue to follow the ways of love and heed the tugging at your heartstrings by the one who is as close to you as the air you breathe.
More on this next time as we look into other ways to articulate and attempt to name the unnamable.
Peace to you