Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm Dreaming of a White (Suburban, Middle-Class) Agnostic

Tonight I'll be participating in a large concert to benefit a local food bank. It's mostly a choral concert, but it also includes some of my brass colleagues from the university. It's for a good cause, it's in a beautiful Spanish-revival Catholic church, and it sounds beautiful. Good stuff.

Christmas music forms one of three legs that anchor my Christmas spirit. The other two are Family and Decorations (lights, specifically). As long as there is some combination of these three, it feels like Christmas.

Maybe that's part of the reason I'm fond of snow. It's a herald for a certain time of year.

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"But wait!" I hear you cry. Aren't I some sort of raving atheist? Don't I worship Charles Darwin? Don't I marry gay couples for the fun of it?

Sorry, no. I, like just about every other person, cannot fit neatly under a label. Some would say that I'm just diluting my beliefs, since I'm spread to thin and therefore more susceptible to assailing of my position. For example, aren't I a hypocrite (or at least a bad Christian) if I both celebrate Christmas and excoriate those who fervently advocate Christ? Probably. I am the sort of person who lives a just and moral life as I understand it, and will not allow myself to force any other horses to the water and make them drink.

In the past few years, I've learned that I'm not doing it correctly. To be a Christian is to be out, pounding the streets! If I'm not out bringing everyone the Message, then I'm no kind of Christian. If I'm not telling everyone how great God has been in my life, then I'm falling behind all the others who meet their quotas.

Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 6:1

When I made the transition to "high school" Sunday school, they started public prayer. People who talked about all the great things that God and Jesus had done for them got rewarded with applause and praise from the youth ministers. People who didn't mention them were prompted to include them, or that all glory is His. It was at this point that I first doubted that I was a true Christian. I never felt like God was involved in me taking tests, getting a job, or doing good works. Doesn't He have bigger things He should be doing? Because I'd rather God be working on getting people to stop hunger and war; I can (and should!) study on my own.

But when I tried to explain this to people, they simply said that since God was everywhere, he could do it all at the same time. And that even if I didn't want or need his help, he was still helping. If I didn't think I wanted it, God still helped because he loved me, and if I didn't think I needed it, then God was still helping, but He was also making me feel like I was doing it by myself. "Wow," I thought. "God's kind of a prick." He gives me the feeling that I want to work myself, freeing up his attentions for more deserving areas, but then he goes ahead and helps anyway, since I can't do it without God's help?

No thanks.

And over the years I came to understand what being a Christian is, in today's age. It is acknowledging His glory. It's believing that God's son was somehow God himself. It's trying to round up everyone under the banner, because only the Bible is correct and divinely inspired (I accidentally wrote "sinspired" here. Paging Dr. Freud!). It's going out and making apostles of all nations. It's hearing about loving even the sinners, but hating the sins.

And I realized that even though I had always considered myself a Christian, I was wrong. I am not, and I never was. This would be a good time to use the old Ronald Reagan cliche about "I didn't leave the Democratic party; it left me!" I thought about using it, but then I realized that's a cop out. Christianity didn't leave me; it was just never explained in detail earlier. Ceremonies that I thought I understood were actually about something different. And it turned out that no matter how much I felt independent; no matter how much I learned the value of humility and passing help to others who needed it; no matter how much internal progress I went through to allow myself to do things I couldn't before, I couldn't escape the fact that God had his hand in everything. I wasn't doing anything praiseworthy or groundbreaking other than following God's trail of invisible breadcrumbs. All glory is His.

So I made the decision. And to this day, people still tell me that God's inspiring everything I do. That God is testing me. That God never lets go. That God gave me stubbornness to eventually bring me back to him. Well, God also made me intelligent enough to know self-righteous desperation and vindictive sniping when I hear it.

When I die, I'll no doubt be consigned to Hell. But if everyone who makes up the public face of evangelical Christianity is in Heaven, then I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. I'll burn in eternal torment, and if even the smallest part of me is still conscious of myself, I'll know it's for the better. I'd rather be tortured next to Socrates, Mohandas Ghandi, and Oscar Wilde, than play my harp next to James Dobson, Jerry Johnston, and Fred Phelps.

So, I like Christmas. I like it because it is a fading reminder of what I thought Christianity was about. I like it because it reminds me who I am, and it reminds me what's important. And it tells me that even though good things don't last long, they'll come around again, soon enough.

1 comment:

  1. One of the greastest views I ever heard was this (paraphrased for a lack of memory).

    "God wouldn't have given us the gifts of free will and intelligence if he didn't want us to use them, and I wouldn't choose to believe in a God that would send good people to Hell for using those gifts he gave us."

    You've reached a (very reasonable) conclusion that many christians have it wrong. They would have you believe, at any cost, that their way is the only way, but it's not. God probably doesn't count the number of church services we've gone to in our life, (and I bet he'd rather we go to one and really connect with him) He doesn't care if we take the credit for working hard, and there's no bonus points in Heaven for signing up your friends - Religion isn't a pyramid scheme.

    So many people turn away from christianity because so many christians take a simple message of love and understanding and turn it into a message of hate, self-loathing, and inclusiveness. If you don't do X, you're not a good christian. That's crap.

    My belief is that NONE of the details matter as long as I believe that God exists, loves me, and that I be a good person. Like the quote, I wouldn't want to believe in a God who would require more, and if that means I go to Hell, I guess I'll be there, right next to Fred Phelps.

    Just trying to say, it's possible to remain a Christian against the ridiculous tide of the times. You just don't make many friends along the way.

    - Ryan