Friday, March 04, 2005

I Just Don't Understand

Last night was the group meeting. I really enjoyed myself. There are supposed to be 16 members of the group, but it's one of those things where different people come every week, so there were only six of us yesterday. Everyone is having slight trouble in following Lewis... this is one of his harder books. When they heard that I had read it before, Group Leader said, "Great! So you can explain it to all of us!" I said I read it, not that I taught a course in it :) I find myself having to reread parts in order to grasp them as well.

We got into a good discussion on humility and does God have a plan for our lives? and do we want Him to? and why does His "plan" include pain? It was very interesting.

Also, I wanted to show you all this blog entry by forgottenmachine on the topic of God letting evil things happen. I think it's an interesting discussion, and certainly one that's been on my mind while reading The Problem of Pain. Now, I have a hard time reconciling a loving God with the horrors of this earth, but I can sort of accept it. What I can't accept, however, is something like the tsunami. God gives us free will, we're evil, we hurt each other, fine, fine, I get it. But something like that, not caused by us, that wipes out hundreds of thousands of people, I absolutely cannot understand. God couldn't have intervened and stopped it without messing with our free will? Um, wrong. So the only viable alternative argument is that God wanted it to happen for a reason. I can't even imagine what that reason might be. And yes, it's true that God gives life and can take it away, and yes, maybe they're better off if they're somewhere happy, but still. Is anyone else seriously bothered by this?

And then I hear some Christian arguments that just make me angry, like:

"God let/made it happen because it's one of the signs of the end of the world."

"I don't know why it happened, but did you hear this great story about the [Christian family, pastor, church group, insert privileged group here] who was miraculously saved?"

I love this whole idea of God only looking out for certain people He created. I guess you could argue that Christians are the ones asking for His protection, but I don't like that argument. It's not a person's fault if they're praying to the wrong God (and isn't it incredibly arrogant of religions to assert their God over all others) or if they don't believe in God at all (can you blame them? I feel that there's a lot of evidence for the existence of God, but I can also see how someone wouldn't see that... and even so, it's not painfully obvious which God is the God.)

Which brings me to another piece of doctrine that makes me mad. Christianity is fairly exclusive, don't you think? I went to a Christian college briefly and one of my professors said that Christianity is extremely inclusive and extremely exclusive at the same time. Inclusive because anyone - regardless of background, class, race, sex - can accept Christ and be saved. Exclusive because... well, you have to accept Christ to be saved! And that's really what the religion comes down to. Catholics have that lovely baptism by desire doctrine, but for all of us Protestant folk, we just have to wake up every morning knowing (well, believing) that many, if not most, of the people we encounter during the day will spend an eternity burning in hell. Because they were child molesters and rapists? No, not necessarily. Because they were responsible for mass genocide?? Nah, don't have to be. All they have to be guilty of is choosing the wrong religion, or not choosing a religion at all. So if you grew up in a Hindu family, and you really don't know anything else, hate to break it to you but you're screwed royally. Same for all you Muslims, Buddhists... la de da. The list goes on.

And not to mention that Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Africans, Native Americans, Anglo-Saxons, etc. who, according to the Bible, didn't even have the option to be saved until Christ came (salvation was only for the Jews back in the Old Testament days). And when Christ did come, did half of these people know about him? And how did many of them come to learn? Well, Christianity was preached to the Africans as they were enslaved, beaten, and raped. It was preached to the Native Americans as they were being killed and their land was being stripped from them. Is it really fair to expect these groups to adopt this new religion, considering the circumstances surrounding their "enlightenment"?

I once asked Mentor how a person can remain sane while believing that people of other faiths go to hell. He laughed at my choice of the word "sane." (Perhaps it implied that Christians are insane. I really hadn't even thought of that, and it's not what I meant, I swear!) I ask you all, how can a person remain sane while believing that?? Then he said that maybe God makes a way for people who haven't heard of Jesus to be saved anyway - something my mother likes to theorize about. Which is a possibility. I just don't like even saying that Jesus is the only way. I realize that's essential to the religion, but geez. It's so... I don't know, ethnocentric? Is that the right word when it comes to religion?

(Note: Just to clarify, the brand of Christianity I am constantly agitating against is that which I have been brought up with. I am aware that there are more liberal denominations out there. I just address my own because it's my background. If anyone wants to share more about their background, please do.)


Nightocean said...

Hi Sojourness,

I can appreciate your struggles very much. I'm in the process of breaking away from Christianity. I was raised Catholic, which I'm still trying to recover from. I spent about 10 years as an evangelical and stopped doing that, then made one last big effort by becoming an Orthodox Christian, which lasted 2 and a half years before I had to stop because it really seemed like it was harming my soul.

I have many of the same issues you do, esp. about women. I'm glad you've read the church fathers, so you know how they viewed women. It's a lot to ignore, in my opinion, just like Christians have to ignore all the bloodshed through the centuries.

I'd like to recommend a book and website to you, Killing the Buddha. I actually have an essay on their web site right now, "My Kitty," that you might find interesting. The book is especially interesting, with different authors rewriting books of the Bible. The book of Job is rewritten by a man who is the child of a Holocaust survivor, so in my mind, he certainly has the right to do it. He notes that only the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) face the problem of explaining suffering because only they put forth a creator who is both all powerful and infinitely good. The Hindus, on the other hand, have the god Brahma, who creates, and the god Shiva, who destroys. I'm not Hindu and don't worship Shiva, but somehow this makes more sense to me. It acknowledges the reality of suffering, and the possibility that what we work to build can at some point be torn down.

Also, have you read any Rumi? He was a Persian poet who wrote in the 13th century. He founded Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. You might find him interesting. There's a lot of ideas there that are worthwhile.

My only real advice is to keep seeking, but also anticipate that you might get burned, like your parents did, but keep seeking anyway. Take breaks now and then if you need to, but keep going. I tried to stop seeking for several years, and it wasn't good.


sojourness said...

The Book of Rumi is actually next in my God's Breath book, so when I get to it, I will be commenting on it in here as well.

I will check out that book and website; thanks.

forgottenmachine said...

Sheesh! Call me a little humbled! Thanks for taking my post on the nature of evil as it was intended. I didn't want to seem hostile toward any who might respond from a Christian background, but at the same time, if I toned down the anger/frustration, I wouldn't have been true to how I was feeling at that point.

Didn't expect anyone to link to it, though! Thanks!

Fence said...

Interesting post, I never realised that the whole Baptism of Desire thing was an accepted doctrine in Catholicism, although I had heard of it. I'm Irish Catholic, btw, well a non-practicing cherry-picking catholic, but that is how I as raised.

there is always the stock phrase; "god works in mysterious ways" but I don't know if that helps with the tsunami issue