Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Falling away from faith Pt. 5

Falling away from faith was not a dramatic moment of devastation, as though it all happened at once. There were moments of terror as I studied theology on my own. I remember opening the Jesus Seminar website with the door locked while sweating and shaking so much, I could hardly type in the website address. I deleted my Internet history the moment I logged out worried that if I died that night, I wouldn't want Jon to think my final act had been embracing heresy. I'm nothing if not dramatic.

Yet if you think about it, the stakes were that high. I was on the verge of apostasy (if you lived in my brain, you'd know it was true) according to the evangelical formulation of faith. Yet I couldn't stop. I had to know "everything," had to rethink everything.... which is impossible of course, but I was determined to try.

Jon and I had many conversations that were probing, difficult and at times, scary. He worried about me; he was upset with me; he loved me. I shared (how can I not share?) but I held back the scariest thoughts from Jon. I processed most of my theological journey with a couple of online friends who were reading the same books. I did accumulate a surprising number of Hans Kung volumes and Jon certainly noticed my nose buried in them most days.

And that's probably why one day Jon came home from teaching at Xavier excited to tell me that Hans Kung would be at Xavier that weekend! Like the good fan that I am, I immediately stacked up all my Kung volumes (better than working out with weights, I tell you) and stood in front of the mirror changing outfits six times.

We sat in the third row. Kung was brilliant, of course, but he never really answered the one question that drove me at the time: who gets saved and how? Or did he? Was I stuck in a moment I couldn't get out of?

Still, I bought Kung's latest book and threw myself at him for an autograph as he descended the stage. I'm pretty sure he didn't know what hit him. And rats! I forgot my camera but I have the memory.

The point is, Kung approached theology in a way that took me in new directions. His thinking about salvation had to do with the Kingdom of God in the here and now. His passion had to do with dialog and mutual sympathy between the religions. He felt all of these constituted Christian commitment and were in accord with Christian values and theology. In fact, he reminded me of my Aunt June (famous on this blog). She often spoke about faith in these terms and I had dismissed her theology for years as liberal... yet suddenly her words echoed Kung, and as I let myself consider them, they opened windows rather than slamming doors.

My aunt is the one person I thought to seek as I felt my faith collapsing. She's the one who said, "God likes ambiguity a lot more than we do." I knew I could ask her any question and she wouldn't be worried about me. Why did I know that? Why would she feel free to respond that way? And of course she did, in six pages of single spaced compassion and clarity. More fresh air rushed into the room of my heart.

Back at the Kung seminar, while I was standing in line for a glass of wine (yeah, a Catholic school - I know!), I met a woman in the theology program at Xavier. She told me Amazing Things, like Dr. Paul Knitter was one of her teachers (yet another hero of mine and friend of June's). So when Jon and I got in the car to drive home, he said, "It's a no-brainer. You should get your Master's in theology."

And with the sound of inevitability, I knew I would enroll. A year later, I began my program without faith but with much hope.

My primary problem (as I thought about it) was that I could not see how my own mind processed information. I still felt like a prisoner and victim of my thought patterns, and wanted someone outside of myself to help me see them. I wanted criticism, challenge, and most of all, the tools to evaluate the claims others made about the faith for myself.

I consider my entry into grad school (in hindsight) the most honest act of faith I've exercised. It's not often someone chooses to devote four years of life to subject matter her mind no longer accepts as true. It often struck me as funny that I was studying virtuality and could get a degree in it! I could not see anything clearly, yet I walked directly into devoted focus on Christianity in spite of not believing any more.

I determined that it was time to start over. Completely. Which I did.


Westall Way said...

Hi seems the part of us that struggles is the part of us which must think and look for reason within it all. All of what we know is conveyed to us by some other; who could not know any more than we do, what the essence of "it" is. In our most quiet times, when we are alone and try to achieve a state without thought, we may feel at peace. Do we need to understand or, do we need to be? When we pass from here to there, then we will find what is there. Religion, as proposed by mankind, always seems to get back to some rules, prophesies or other ways in which we must act to please someone in the name of GOD; a fine manipulation which seems of benefit only to the powerful who control the religion(s).Be on the course you are; just be.......

musing said...

I'm enjoying reading this series of posts, Julie!

>>>Yet if you think about it, the stakes were that high. I was on the verge of apostasy (if you lived in my brain, you'd know it was true) according to the evangelical formulation of faith. Yet I couldn't stop. I had to know "everything," had to rethink everything...<<<

I so relate to this. During my own journey there were many times I’d break into a sweat, fearing I might spend eternity in hell for what I was learning and thinking.

julieunplugged said...

It should be pointed out that during these years of searching, I spent a lot of time on ex-fundamentalist websites and forums. A common theme revealed itself. Many ex-Christians repudiated the faith entirely (unable to find anything about it that they could still embrace). Yet the faith they were rejecting was a fundamentalist or evangelical or staunchly conservative variety. And truly, we'd been taught (all of us) that liberalism was a watered down, compromising version of faith for sissies (heretics), not a thoughtful, valid, even more accurate in some instances, version of the faith.

I was intrigued with liberal theology for the first time, but I also knew that I had so devoted my life to Christianity to that point in time, I could not simply walk away from it and spend the next forty years repudiating it.

I knew that for better or worse, I was "married" to the faith. It would continue to be my chief dialog partner in meaning generation because it had been for so long and because I was still utterly interested in it. My purpose, then, was to discover how to make peace with my faith (or former faith, or future faith), while also drawing meaning from it, no matter where I landed on the scale of conservative to liberal, or God-fearing to atheist.

julieunplugged said...

westfall way, thanks for your comments. I think the word "be" characterizes much of my journey. I got over my anxiety to "know" and learned to enjoy the state in which I found myself. That was the beginning of freedom from anxiety about faith.

Kansas Bob said...

I love reading about your journey Julie ... echoes a bit of mine. My journey has been a kind of head to heart one ... believing more in the Spirit in me than the One outside of me - if that makes any sense. Maybe another way to say it is that I am much more confident in my gut feelings than I ued to be.

Looking forward to #6!

Steve said...

Great stuff.....go on!

Larry said...

Starting over is required, I think. By the time we've become adults we've become so saturated with intellect and reason that heart-stuff seems very strange and slippery.

I think it's part of an ongoing process. New thought, like grass in the sidewalk, pushes aside older ideas.

In my case... I got saved in 1971. By about 1979 I was close to being done with God. I was looking for truth with my intellectual filters and His reality was, I now think, too fine to be caught. By 2003 I was done with life, and that's when God went against statistics to pick me up.

Since then it has been a struggle to allow Him to soften my intellectual stance. My intellect has always been my safety: I figure things out and act accordingly. That doesn't work with following Jesus, at least in my experience. Now I live with an odd mix of reason, grace, intellect, emotion and secrets only the Holy Spirit knows and is gradually showing to me. Slowly, so that I don't just get up and bolt.

Ultimately, living as a Christian probably involves many cycles of coming and going, throughout a person's life. God knows we're weak. Only we expect ourselves to be able to figure all of this out instantly.

Rahime said...

Hi Julie,

I just came over here from Barbara's blog, and I've really enjoyed this series so far. You've articulated your journey beautifully.

I can relate to a lot of what you've written, though my path has been different. I oftentimes feel if we could separate from religion and just focus on "being" our view of God and interactions with God would be richer.

I admire the depth of your thinking about the issues surrounding faith/salvation that you've brought up...and your commitment to searching out answers. Sometimes I wish I were more like that. I tend to think about those questions, but typically just let them be...I've never really had a need to "know" or the drive to search out answers...even though I wish I did.

Looking forward to part 6.

Barbara said...

I am ready for part six too.

Emily said...

Julie, I went to XU because I felt a pull to go there and study. I think, like you, it was the most spiritually honest thing I've done. I just wish I knew why...