Our culture is rife with unproductive conversations about God and religion. Donald and I attempt to rectify this by sitting down and talking about our belief and unbelief in God.
Last night before going to bed, I found myself praying the Evening Office from the Book of Common Prayer. I love the book of Common Prayer — I love the poetry and the guiding, inner choreography of the liturgy. As I prayed last night I felt that warmth, presence, and silent awe I’ve felt my whole life when I enter sacred spaces — many would call it the presence of God. Sometime, when praying, I find myself speaking in tongues, a torrent of syllables pouring from me unbidden. It feels warm in my mouth, and it feels like something outside of myself speaking through me. I also still attend church (when I can), and I experience the love and presence of an external, invisible force.Continue reading “On Not Believing in God But Experiencing Him Anyway”
When I was in college, I had a harrowing experience: a friend of mine became demon possessed, and subsequently went through an exorcism officiated by a local minister. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and reinforced my lifelong Christian belief in the supernatural.
Now, many years later, I have questions. What actually happened to my friend? Supernaturalist explanations now seem overly simplistic – was she mentally ill instead? And what about the rest of us who believed that she was possessed? Were we helping her, or abusing her? And what purpose does possession serve in human societies?
Joseph Laycock, an expert in the experience of spirit possession, new religious movements, and fringe spirituality, sits down with me to explore the history and causes of demon possession.
I’ve spent a great deal of time on this blog exploring the ways in which my faith has transformed from the reassuring, cozy, traditional Christianity of my childhood. I’ve wandered far from home into nontheism, flirted with blasphemy, and questioned the existence of the supernatural altogether.
Many would say I’m not a Christian at all, and they might be right. If one defines Christianity as taking the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds as literal truth, then I certainly don’t qualify. I think I stopped believing the creeds long before I ever accepted my crisis of faith. Perhaps post-Christian would be a more accurate descriptor: I’ve entered a terrain which is beyond traditional Christianity, but only accessible by way of Christianity.
And yet, I still hold on to the label Christian, and the reason is simple: I can’t give up my love affair with the myth of Christ. I can’t let go of the story about the God-man who came to earth, told stories, taught love and radical peace, and then modeled ego-death and resurrection — the path we are all meant to follow, day after day.
In the most simple, minimalistic way possible I am a Christian: a follower of Christ, someone who makes Christ the most central image of my inner guiding myth. I’m not sure I can help myself; religion is mapped onto my being like a language, from the earliest days of my life. No matter how much I may doubt, wander, and reject the unfalsifiable claims of religion, I can’t rid myself of religion, and I don’t think I need to.
If this minimalistic Christianity strikes other Christians as heretical, too little, cloying and pandering to worldly doubt, that’s fine. I accept that. But I welcome others into my minimalistic religion with me. Those who doubt, struggle, and yet still yearn for religious life: we don’t have to believe in God or the supernatural, we don’t even have to accept the stories about Christ as true — I think many of them are probably legend. We can embrace the myth of Christ, and the transcendent, self-sacrificing path that myth sets before us. And that, I think, makes us Christians.
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I don’t believe in God.
Nothing sends off fireworks in the brain for religious people quite like an admission of atheism. It’s scary, in my beloved religious community, to admit that I don’t believe in God. I’ve had some unexpectedly unpleasant conversations with friends — conversations that suddenly dipped into ferocious defensiveness, in which they assumed a lot about what I believe and don’t believe.
So, allow me to explain what I mean when I say I don’t believe in God.Continue reading “This is What I mean When I Say I Don’t Believe in God”
In this episode I talk to film-maker Christopher Maloney about his latest documentary, In God We Trump, which explores the confounding relationship between Trump and the evangelical world.
Around this time last year, I buried my cousin. Ian was a vegan, atheist, and environmentalist so dedicated to the cause of caring for the earth that his principles extended even to his death. After a physicist gave a science lesson on what would happen to Ian’s body, and how he would nourish the tree that would be planted over him, we took shovels and buried what was left of Ian. He was wrapped in purple linen, and the cancer had reduced his frame to a frail shadow of his former fit, powerful, athletic self.
The ceremony was void of any spirit, symbol, or God. I was disquieted by the that, and yet I was moved. I was moved by Ian’s commitment to science, and his care for the earth. I was tempted to call the funeral hopeless, but realized that wasn’t right. The funeral was full of love, conviction, and hope, and didn’t need to say anything about an afterlife. That wasn’t the point of Ian’s life – Ian was about the here and now, the earth, the injustices that plagued the planet now. He didn’t believe in the afterlife, and that lack of belief thrust him headfirst into the present. Plus, it wasn’t my funeral. Who was I to cast judgement on Ian’s wishes? That would be tasteless.
My faith is evolving from a religion of revealed truth to a religion of language and symbol. The faith of my childhood and young adulthood – taking for granted that a personal God is real, that scripture is God breathed, and that there is an after life – is now effectively dead. I question all of that, now. I don’t know what happens after I die, but I think “nothing happens” is the most likely answer. My understanding of God has expanding into something so abstract and impersonal that I can hardly call it God at all, and the personal God of my old faith is long gone.
I’m the middle of a fascinating book called Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. Author Joseph Laycock explores, with great detail and insight, the parallel worlds of role-playing games and religion. For three decades, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were at the center of a moral panic involving everything from fears of cults, satanists, to a lost generation of super predators. His thesis is that role-playing games were threatening to the religious right because, if communities could create such intricate, imagined, and meaning-making worlds through games, does that mean that religion itself is a sort of game? But beneath this initial thesis lie some profound insights for people like me who still greatly value religion, even as I doubt the existence of a personal God.
For the past year or so now, I’ve been caught in the strange, lonely, interstitial space of no longer believing in the existence of a personal God but still deeply valuing the role of religion in my life.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve been quietly grieving for my faith in a literal, personal God for most of my twenties, and that it was only in 2017 that I finally accepted the death of my personal God. It took a long time to grieve, to even to build up the courage to pull the covers back and peak into a world without God. God felt more fundamental than my skin, breath, and blood. To lose Him felt like the loss of everything.