This Summer…

I have let go of my belief in God (both as a belief qua belief, and as a belief in God qua God). It seems like I have been working toward this for the past six or seven years. For sure, ever since my daughter died.

One of the ways I have been making sense of this is to say I have become agnostic about God. Not “an” agnostic, in the noun sense of being “a thing” (e.g., “I am not a Christian, I am an Agnostic”). But agnostic in the verb sense of, “I am agnostic about God”, which is actually to say, “I don’t know.”

Over the past several years as a parish pastor I have felt as though I can say fewer and fewer things about God with integrity. As many ways as I have tried to make sense of God’s goodness through my experience of my daughter’s suffering and death, I just haven’t found a satisfying answer to “why bad things happen to good people”. Maybe that’s the wrong question to begin with.

I no longer find it possible to speak for God in a “thus sayeth the Lord” manner even backed up with black letter Scripture (or red letter as the case may be). I have, however, become quite skilled, I think, at preaching and teaching Jesus’ words and actions as they are recorded in the 4 Gospels as an invitation toward integration and wholeness. Many people seem to find this helpful (as I do myself). But many other church people don’t know what the hell I’m talking about because it doesn’t sound very “churchy” or “religious” or whatever they think they want to hear when they come to church. (It is probably better that I am no longer regularly burdening a congregation with this process.)

Robert M. Ellis’ new book, The Christian Middle Way: The Case Against Christian Belief but for Christian Faith has given me a path to walk on as I move through these new shadowlands in this segment of my journey. In this book, Ellis draws heavily both on the Middle Way philosophy developed by the Buddha and also the function of archetypes as articulated by Carl G. Jung.

Applying Middle Way principles including provisionality and avoiding the absolutizing tendency of metaphysical claims (whether religious or anti-religious) Ellis proposes a path toward integration that may helpfully include the archetypes of God and Jesus incarnate, crucified, and risen, as well as much of the symbolism and meaning of the Christian tradition on one’s journey.

Simply exchanging absolute belief in the metaphysical claims of Christianity for an absolute belief in the metaphysical claims of atheism, naturalism, science or another religion (such as Buddhism) doesn’t really help in the long run. In so doing one is simply exchanging one set of unprovable claims for another, while remaining firmly absolutist the new set of beliefs. It is not the beliefs that are the problem, it is the absolutism.

Besides, the stories and symbols of Christianity (particularly Western, Protestant Christianity) are the sea in which I have been born, raised, trained, and in which I continue to swim. Curiously, Jung said,

You can certainly leave Christianity but it does not leave you. Your liberation from it is delusion. Christ is the way. You can certainly run away, but then you are no longer on the way.

This explains why, though I continue to learn much from traditions besides Christianity (especially Buddhism and Humanism), simply converting to Buddhism or becoming a Humanist feels ultimately unsatisfying and non-integrative.

I am a human being swimming in the sea of the Christian ethos. The Middle Way seems like a helpful way in which to integrate my actual embodied experience of life without having to prove to myself or anyone else absolute beliefs about God or the Bible, the Creeds, or any of the rest of it. Because, the truth is, I just don’t know. I really don’t.

Nevertheless, I remain open to love and to the journey of integration wherever it may lead. And I suspect that is the space in which whatever God there may or may not be most helpfully meets people anyway.

Love One Person

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