Sunday, June 11, 2006

Commenting on Dave's comments

The discussion of this week's column has sent my head spinning in lots of directions. I want to discuss a comment Dave made that I found especially spot on:
What you're hitting on is the sometimes irrational nature of belief itself - what we believe, and why we believe it, often has little if anything to do with "evidence that demands a verdict." Surely, evidence is often compiled and presented as a means of persuading or defending particular beliefs, but religious and community affiliations have much more to do with social relationship needs and psychological temperaments that we each bring to the situation.
This is really the heart of my UPI column from last week. I used my AM Talk Radio voice, but in truth, as I move forward in describing my journey, this is what I want to discuss and emphasize. The evangelical community is so attractive, so filled with good people who love to love each other, so filled with mission and purpose and an aliveness expressed in their desire to make a difference, that beliefs like Adam and Eve are almost unimportant.

I remember explaining to someone that I really didn't care whether God created the world in six days or six billion years. Neither of them would change my faith because the point of my faith was to save people for an eternity of heaven. Eternity far outweighed my thinking about six 24 hour days or six "aeons" of creation.

Insofar as my faith grew in the context of loving people who made it their business to offer other people hope and help, community and caring, prayer and purpose, my interest in examining the historical veracity or scientific likelihood of miraculous events was a low priority. I accepted the Bible's inerrancy because the words of the Bible gave me life... every day. And as long as that perspective sustained me, I believed.

I liked this comment that Dave wrote right after the above:
Beyond those "mundane" considerations, I also harbor enough "faith in God" to believe that there are times when we are drawn in by circumstances larger than our own minds, plans and ambitions to fulfill larger purposes, or to put it more piously, "conform to God's plan for our lives."
One of the most powerful benefits to my early conversion in college was that my desire for "lived truth" (moral clarity and commitment) helped me to avoid a slew of consequences that attended both my roommate and my siblings who also experienced parents divorcing at that pivotal time in our lives but who never turned to religion for help.

I didn't use drugs, sex, or alcohol, I didn't develop eating disorders nor did I drop out of school... I busied myself with the highest of ideals: becoming a better person, caring about others, giving my free time to helping friends grow in their understanding of prayer, the Bible, how to be a kinder, gentler person, how to forgive others who hurt you, how to get over anorexia, developing a sensitivity to all nations of the world, and more.

I was unsuccessful in many ways. I, myself, was overbearing at times, I didn't know how to be gentle when one of my disciples came into the sorority house after a party drunk, I shared my faith without invitation too many times, I didn't always walk what I talked. But my intentions were in the right place. I wanted ultimate purpose. I wanted people to be happy and to live fulfilling lives. I wanted to be committed to something bigger than money and a nice southern California lifestyle.

When I read Dave's comment, it occurred to me (as I even said to Jon last night) that I am very glad I was a missionary in a Muslim country in my early twenties. I'm equally glad that I served in Central Africa for a summer. These two experiences have done more to impact my worldview later in life than any others. I have a global perspective I couldn't buy, read about or study to acquire. And living in those contexts as a fully committed Christian was key to the development of the worldview I have today.

I lived the contrast of one worldview and faith against another. I lived it. It changed me. It informs how I think about global politics, economies and religious traditions.

Over the years at Xavier, I've come to the place that I do appreciate the power of religious faith and how important it is to study it, to take it apart and to examine its impact on culture. Religion, images of God, holy texts are as powerful as peace treaties or nuclear bombs. And so, I'm glad I have been a Christian because I can be a part of determining what role our faith plays on the world stage.

So Dave may be right - my parents' divorce brought me into a lifelong relationship with Christianity that is for better or for worse. Amazingly, in spite of my critiques, I have Campus Crusade to thank. :)

I want to end with a question for you: How do you feel that your Christian faith has benefitted you in the past and in what ways has it changed its role in your life?


Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I have such mixed emotions about how the Christian faith/subculture has effected my life but you asked about the benefits so I will try to emphasize the benefits...Like you I have many fond memories of the loving people I have encountered and rubbed shoulders with over the you...Christianity and it's influence helped spare me from drugs, sex, alcohol, and the other pitfalls of youth culture. Christianity also greatly benefited me psychologically. The idea of a loving God/Jesus who accepted me warts and all was something that was deeply needed in my life as a teenager. I also greatly benefited from a very positive community experience where my self esteem and intellectual potential blossomed while attending Bible College in my early I said.....I have such mixed emotions because of the dark side of Christianity that promotes marginalization, legalism, etc. But I'll leave it at that since you asked about the benefits....

julieunplugged said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
julieunplugged said...

Hi Bill...

Actually I asked for the benefits in the past and in what ways xtnty has changed for you.

I think the difficulty with all of this discussion is that for some the benefits are ongoing while for others of us, a dark side of xtnty emerged that was so forbidding, we felt the need to leave - at least to leave the original formulation we'd been introduced to (which is incomprehensible to those who still enjoy its benefits)!

So I think both are worth posting and talking about.

Your comment about self-esteem and intellectual potential are spot on for me too. I felt very much that my mind was stimulated and engaged in a way it had never been before when I first studied the Bible.

Good comments.


Kansas Bob said...

If you have a few minutes you can read a bit about how faith changed my life.

I think that the biggest obstacle of my faith has been my brain ... I've spent most of my life living out of it ... that is problematic because trust and faith are heart issues not head issues.

Living from your head is safe ... living from your heart is scary ... probably why most people revert to their heads 98% of the time ... who needs faith when you got your head :)

julieunplugged said...

Hi Bob! How did you find me?

I'll read your story when I get a chance.

I think I've lived mostly from the heart for my adult Christian life. I certainly felt my head was engaged (not blind faith). But rather, I had not really appreciated the volume of material from other sources that contradicted some of what I took for granted. I call what I did "delegating authority" to those I bleieved knew better than me or who were more educated than me.

So it's been really nice to be in a place where I am learning how to evaluate claims for myself and to expose myself to a much broader community of christian theology and reflection... and tuning in a bit to what's been happening philosophically and scientifically as well (both fields I tended to ignore back in the ev day).


isaiah said...

"How do you feel that your Christian faith has benefitted you in the past and in what ways has it changed its role in your life?"

Won't bore you with details of fundy Christian upbringing and schooling, wayward son syndrome including sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll fallout... but, without my exposure of Christ at an early age with a full blown encounter of "I Am-ness" I would not be who I am today.

I have discovered that "everything is always in Divine Order"...and through these eyes I see how the message of Jesus in no different than the message of Budhha, or Khrishna, or Julie Unplugged.

Great site-


Dave said...

I became a Christian when I was 21 years old, while hitch-hiking through the desert from LA to Texas (my conversion happened in a town called Lordsburg, New Mexico.) This event took place after approximately eight years of fairly deliberate rejection of my mom's (and other's) efforts to "win me to Jesus." She returned to her Christian roots after she and my dad divorced. I resented having to go to church and find something in common with "church kids" who didn't seem at all interested in getting to know me and I didn't see any reason that I would want to be like them in the first place. But several years of doing my own thing my way put me in a perilous position re: my mental health and sense of purpose in life. I was a fairly chronic drug user, I had dropped out of college to pursue ambitions to be a rock star and was basically living a bitter, going-nowhere kind of life when I finally decided to drop out of my local scene, hit the road, wander in the desert and seek enlightenment of one sort or another.

I found it by reading the Bible seriously and letting its message speak to me however it applied. Using language familiar to the book of Proverbs, I found myself to be more of a "fool" than a "wise" person. That got my attention. Through my conversion, my return to my hometown and a thorough cleaning up of my inner and outer life, I was able to reassemble the pieces of my life in a way that led to a nice family, a stable and productive career and a more integrated sense of who I am and what I'm about that I enjoy today. But the ironic thing about this is that I had to eventually drop off the "training wheels" of naive, literalistic Christianity that helped keep me moving ahead in the early years of my post-conversion life. After about 12 or 13 years of trying to maintain the facade of compliance and conformity to middle-class evangelical "norms", I got to the point where I could no longer represent myself as such and maintain a sense of inner peace and personal integrity that remains so important to me.

My Christian "basic training" gave me a better sense of self-control, stronger abilities to refrain from self-destructive and dishonest behaviors and an improved aptitude for communicating with people about spiritual and ethical concerns than I had when I was trying to do it all myself. But the crisis came about when the symbols, presumptions and (IMO) misguided priorities of institutional protectionism and centralized control that are so characteristic of evangelicalism became unbearable burdens for me to personally support and practice. So I made the difficult choice of checking out of some of the commitments I'd made when I was really too young and manipulable to credibly commit to them over the course of a long lifetime.

I still find a lot to admire and strive for in the basic ethical guidelines of Christianity, but little of the ancient cosmology or metaphysical speculation holds value for me anymore. The preoccupations of questions like "life after death" and how God interacts with our world are interesting diversions, but I think for the most part these are irresolvable debates where many different perspectives have something good to offer.

I'm just not that impressed by much of the authoritative assertions made in the name of God by leaders of organized religion these days. It's hard for me to hear them as doing much else besides supporting party lines or vying for influence in the public domain - marketing campaigns and strategic positioning, more or less. Some "campaigns" are easier for me to support because I think they result in an increase of the greater good, but I continue to feel a sense of arm-twisting behind too much of what I see or hear from "church bosses," whether they are ecclesiastical officials, popular teachers or local-level ideologues who use religion to satisfy their own needs for control over the lives of others.

Does that answer your question? :o)

julieunplugged said...

Uh, yeah, Dave. That does answer it! :)

I really enjoyed that telescopic view of your journey too (I had heard it in pieces but not have the fuller picture). I find the fact that several of us turned to fundamentalist style relgion instead of drugs an interesting thoughtline to consider. Perhaps that does indicate that religion might have a druglike effect (opiate of the people, Karl Marx?) for those who are suffering.

I would not suggest they are the same effects, but perhaps they serve similar purposes of helping one to cope with overwhelming circumstances.

Good feul for thought as always.