(Once again, a reference to something posted over at ChristianForums. The original thread is here.)
Okay, this will refer back to a couple of previous articles. If you haven’t read ‘em yet, maybe you should read them now.
Here’s a likely order to read them in:
Deus Domesticus (Also found on the blog.)
What is salvation, anyway? (Also found on the blog.)
Do you deserve to be loved? Who cares! (Also found on the blog.)
How, then, shall we live? (Also found on the blog.)
So, in the above articles, I’ve sort of made the following case:
1. Christianity is not necessarily restricted to what any given Christian tells you, or what you see on TV.
2. Salvation is not a hypothetical and untestable claim about the afterlife; it’s something you can observe right here and now.
3. Whether or not you “deserve” salvation should not be at issue.
4. One of the most important things about a teaching is how it affects the way we live our lives. If it doesn’t change what you’ll do, it’s not clear how much it matters.
This, it turns out, makes a case for a sort of naturalistic Christianity. It’s Christianity without much religion to it; it’s all stuff you can see and think about without even hinting at supernatural questions.
But… What if it’s true? What if the reason Christianity works isn’t just some kind of elaborate sociological result, but that there’s something to it? What if there really were a God? How would that change things?
The answer is, it might change things a lot.
Now, what’s important here is that I’m not talking about the effects of belief. I’m talking about the effects of the thing believed in. These effects, if they’re real, oughta happen whether or not you have any particular intellectual position on claims made about Mediterranean history of two thousand years ago.
This salvation thing, it’s real. It really happens. It isn’t just something that people talk about on TV and then go back to their jobs with nothing changed. It changes the way people live.
And the way it changes them, I think, is better explained by the theory that it’s true.
There is something out there. Let’s just call it “God”. We don’t really understand this thing, but it’s out there, and it’s real. Sometimes, when you let yourself be open to it, it changes you; it touches you, it shows you things, it changes the way you think and feel. When you’re really in the groove, words just sorta happen, and they’re good words. Things move. The world is a little different.
Being open to this makes impossible things possible. I don’t mean silly parlor tricks. Who cares about those? I mean bringing hope to the hopeless, comfort to the bereaved. Bringing people who have fought back together as friends. Healing hearts. Stuff that matters.
It makes it possible to get past things you didn’t even know how to start on, conquer fears that were bigger than you.
How’s this work? I dunno. Why should I know? To quote Real Live Preacher, I don’t really even know how the VCR works! But… If you are willing to trust a bit, to open yourself up, and let this force change you, it will, and you will be better.
What’s perhaps more interesting is that you will also be more-you. What’s that mean? It means that I am more as I have tried to be, now, and less as I just happened to be. The anger and ill temper that are my birthright have been replaced by the comparative calm and peace I have always wanted. I am more able to make the decisions I want, and less constrained by the happenstance of my nature. I’ve grown up in ways I didn’t know were possible.
This is not something that happens “because I believe”. This is something that happened long before I believed, and is still happening. I believe because of what happens. These experiences are the data; my conclusion is that Something Is Going On.
From here, we get into the question of trying to figure out what is going on. I have found that, of the people out there describing experiences like these, the Christians seem to be the ones closest to my own experience. Well, some of them. C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald seem to be talking about something nearly identical to what I’m experiencing.
In reading, say, 1 Corinthians 13, I recognize someone else who had encountered whatever I’ve encountered.
In reading the Gospels, I recognize someone who, insofar as I can use words for these kinds of things, was whatever I’ve encountered.
So… I adopt this set of explanations. I find that they are, on the whole, consistent. I don’t necessarily accept everything anyone’s ever claimed as “Christianity”; just the core of the faith itself.
I end up being what people call a “liberal Christian”. That’s nothing to do with the positions I end up holding; it means that I think the Bible was written by people, just like me, trying to get their ideas about God written down so they could share them. Thanks to some pretty huge efforts by the early church, the Bible is a particularly exceptional set of such writing. If you study it honestly, you’re pretty likely to end up being in the right mindset to recognize God when you see Him.
Christianity doesn’t go in much for defending the trademark. There’s a good reason for this. You know how people love to point at other people and say “well, they’re not really Christian”? That makes no sense. How should we know? Do they not deserve to be Christian? Big deal; none of us do. This good deal is not justified, or earned; it’s just free. It’s grace. Do they not agree with me? Big deal. I could be wrong too. Most likely, we’re both wrong, but if we talk about it and listen to each other, maybe we’ll see a little more of the truth. I figure, if they’re sorta weird, well, hey, that’s fine. I’m sorta weird too. We can all be weird together.
But… If you’ve been thinking this salvation thing sounds interesting… Not the silly one where you’re bored but at least you’re not on fire, but the thing where you get changed into the person you’ve always been trying to be… It’s an option. You can do that. You’ll need help, but the help is available.
Don’t let the theology get in your way. Theology is a hobby. It’s a way we try to get closer to understanding what’s happening… But it isn’t essential to the thing happening. People ate well enough to live until they had babies long before we had nutritionists.
Don’t worry too much about whether all the weird finicky details line up. Maybe they never will. It’s okay. Lots of people don’t really get this stuff. Christians argue about it all the time. Most of us, I like to think, realize that we’re arguing because it’s fun.
But… The basic teachings really do work. Loving your enemies can do something much better than beating them; it can heal them. All that crazy stuff about loving strangers, it turns out, makes the world a better place to live in. There is joy to be had in living. You don’t really have to believe any of this to find that out; you can go try it yourself.
But if you find yourself wanting to try it, and having a hard time getting past all your social conditioning and habits and fears… There’s help. Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out. Don’t try to figure out what prayer does, or why an omniscient God would need you to tell Him things. Don’t waste time trying to figure out why we say “Him” about a genderless spirit. Language is not gonna get you there. Doesn’t matter. Just pray for help. Ask for help. Feel free to qualify it all you want. “Hey, if you even exist, I’d like some help here.” That’s fine.
Don’t sit around expecting big drama. Just live your life, as best you can. Trust that, somehow, and we don’t really know how, the help you need will be there when you need it. You can make a go of this. If you screw up occasionally, just pick yourself up and keep walking. There is forgiveness of sins. There is grace.
Don’t worry about trying to identify exactly what actions are “sins”. Sin is not about a big list of Forbidden Verbs. Sin is about how you’re relating with the world. Love God. Love your neighbor. Not sure what God is, or whether there is one? Just love the world. Drink it in. Enjoy the weather, even when it’s bad. Watch the people trying so hard to find ways to be happy. Help them as much as you can. Understand that your enemies are lonely and scared and trying to find a way to feel good. Understand that everyone else is, too.
It’s true. It works. Come on in, the water’s fine.
Date: 2004-11-19 07:38:50 -0600
Yet again, seebs, you make the mistake of assuming what you are to prove. What xianity explains couldn’t possibly be any less relevant.
Date: 2004-11-19 07:43:19 -0600
Oh, and by the way, blurting out the logical equivalent of “Don’t think! Don’t question! BELIEVE!!!” is not convincing…I’ve seen that hateful drivel spewed out before–by many of the xians that you claim to have differences with.
Date: 2004-11-19 09:46:29 -0600
It’s not a matter of proof.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act I, Sc. 5.
Date: 2004-11-19 12:52:24 -0600
Date: 2004-11-19 13:54:08 -0600
A good response to the Hamlet quotation is this one (from my collection – follow the link for my name for others):
W.V.O. Quine has been one of the most ruthless of recent appliers of this principle [Ockham’s razor.] I recall an exchange in print (a fest-schrift, around 1980) where someone quoted Shakespeare’s “There are more things on heaven and earth, than are dreamed of in your philosophy” at Quine. Quine responded something like, “Possibly, but my concern is that there not be more things in my philosophy than are in heaven and earth.” – David Lyndes
Date: 2004-11-19 19:31:49 -0600
“It’s not a matter of proof.”
Wrong. Seebs has made an assertion (namely that a god exists). Since this assertion cannot–by definition–be verified empirically (gods are supernatural, whence they are not observable via the 5 senses), it requires proof.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Unproven assertion that a heaven exists.
Date: 2004-11-19 19:32:35 -0600
Date: 2004-11-19 19:34:24 -0600
Oops, add a “[grin]” to the end of my last post in this thread…
[Homer Simpson] Stupid blanking out of phrases in karats… [/Homer Simpson]
Date: 2004-12-16 15:23:46 -0600
Didn’t seebs say that his experiences are his evidence? I don’t see this as an argument for the existence of God; rather, about how one experiences or accesses spiritual experiences on the assumption that there is a God.
Date: 2004-12-17 09:12:50 -0600
I don’t see it as being provable, and I don’t really care that much. I don’t see any reason for which an assumption should “require” proof. Proof would be neat. Lacking proof, I must acknowledge that I could be wrong… But I don’t worry about it that much.