Thursday, September 9, 2010

Religion: The Infection vs. The Hope

If you've read anything I've written this year, you've probably caught at least one of my posts regarding religion. To say the least, this past year hasn't been the most pleasant experience in the world for me, and my experiences have sadly informed my definitions. In the end, I can pretend objectivity, but I can not help but speak from experience and my heart just as much as I do from logical deduction and observation. I imagine anyone reading this could empathize with that assessment.

That said however, I still stand by my observations regarding religion. I've seen it become a blunt instrument to intellectually and emotionally beat people into submission or manipulate others for some sort of gain, whether it be monetary, social or emotional. I still retain my skepticism regarding those in authority of any religious institution, because I have watched power trips that I am confident those on them did not even realize were happening, and I've seen those in power do things to others that I could only attribute to their desire for control. I have also observed the subtle grouping religion creates, so that if you are a certain way, you are not welcome or accepted, and you gain only lip service, without any real connection with other people. The fact that I can count on my hands the lasting friends I've made from the religious institution I attended for five years may have something to do with this. Though I am thankful for the friends I have made, I have lost just as many to rumor, apathy, and straight up rejection, all of which would have been unnecessary if any sort of healthy social environment were in place.

I am hurt by religion, very deeply, and it's taken a lot of things out of me to just deal with it. I've kept my mouth shut, except in writing, for the past year so that I could graduate from the institution I attended without having to deal with the administration demanding to know about my personal life every 4 minutes, and it worked. But I paid a price. I now believe more than ever that most people, despite what they say, could not care less about others' freedoms or what makes them unique. When people that claim love so blatantly violate it when it becomes inconvenient, I have no idea how I am supposed to continue to believe a word that comes out of their lying mouths. This is not even mentioning the emotional violence done to me by some that I had allowed myself to become very close to, naively expecting that I could believe someone, for once. When I am then asked to support my fellow Christians, I can only laugh bitterly and go on doing my own thing, seeking truth through channels that aren't horrific examples of propaganda and intellectual enslavement.

Though I have always tried to seek the truth, I am a prime example of many of these things. I simply choose not to pretend anymore. I do a horrific job of loving, and I have not called myself a Christian for a long time because of that. I told someone last night for the first time in years that I would pray for them, because I actually meant it for once. I've done terrible things to those I claim to love as well, and can only do my best to try to atone. I have no conceptions left of deserving a single thing. When I am rejected socially, religiously, emotionally, or in any way, I simply believe that something I've done has caused me to deserve it, that maybe justice is being done to me in some way for being how I have been. I share this because it is important for the reader to understand that I am not judging Christianity from a high pedestal, I am looking at the devastation in my own heart and brought on all around me by naivette, the best of intentions, stupid idealism, lack of self awareness, and inability to recognize the virus that infects us all, the virus of self-absorption, of death, of "sin," if you will indulge me a moment, spawning horrific religion.

Yes, I am saying that the religious institution I have been associated with for many years is so corrupt that it is a product of the darkness infecting our world. This may offend the few people I have managed not to alienate yet, and if it does, so be it. I can come to no other honest conclusion after my observations. I would ask the offended reader to continue reading however, because I have a nuance to this point later you may be interested in.

In the interest of honesty, I must also share another observation I have made. However, this is not an observation that grieves me, but gives me hope.

There are a few I have met who, for lack of a better description, refuse all attempts of religion to hold them down. I have made it my business to get to know these people, and to cautiously begin to trust them. What I have found are people just as flawed as I am and everyone else, but people that choose to be aware of themselves, that choose honesty instead of comfort, and that do their absolute best to be honorable, respectful, truthful, and to love in a way that respects others. Additionally, to my amazement, these people claim to be religious! "What foolishness is this?!" I ask them, and their answers are always exceedingly simple. Their conviction in Christ as being the true example of humanity, God's fusion with the brokenness that is humanity to show us what it means to live, outweighs the hurt they have been dealt by religious institutions. Sure, they don't all claim to be religious people, but they follow Christianity as a religion, and I finally understand why.

The Christianity these people I admire follow is a friend to other religions rather than an enemy, approaches others with the best of intentions, even while knowing how horrible people can be, is respectful despite the way people disrespect themselves, and is a simple matter of loving something, indeed Someone, so much that it becomes religion.

The religion I've been referring to is different, it is a virus, an infection on humanity, the Christianity that Nietzsche referred to when he pronounced God as dead and the movement whose followers do not cease to be insipid. It is an elitist group of people who are interested in comfort, security, self-gain, superiority, and will do whatever it takes to assure these things.

The religion I've encountered is something I understand by nature of being a passionate person. For the entirety of this post, I have been listening to Nightwish live recordings on Youtube. These are not the highest quality recordings, but I find them to be overwhelmingly beautiful, because they're examples of why I love my favorite band. They're full of passion, rendering the flaws another aspect of these recordings' greatness. Indeed, when I have seen Nightwish the past two times, I have been completely emotionally overwhelmed by what I've seen, by the connection in the crowd of people, all different, that came for one purpose: to see Nightwish, to sing along, to express their love for the band playing and to enjoy it, regardless of how. We may have our differences on favorite band member, what album was the best (obviously Once, come on!), which singer was better, and some may appreciate different parts of the band (I appreciate the vocals the most, some may like guitar, etc.) No one's not actually a Nightwish fan because of these differences, they just have their own opinions.

That is the religion I encounter from this small group of people, these few that are faithful in their own way. These people aren't interested in proving that their religion is better than others', they're not interested in imposing morality on others' or in maintaining some kind of status queue. Sure, they understand it, we all do. We're all broken, we're all damaged, we all understand how the infection works. But the hope is in moving beyond this, the hope is found when we stop giving a damn what other people have to say about what we should be doing in the name of religion and start being more concerned with respecting others, respecting ourselves, doing inconvenient things in the name of being a true human, and generally being the biggest threat the viral strain of religion has ever known.

Another thing that I've learned is that no good act goes unpunished. I am not the only one that's been damaged while trying to do rightly. I've seen it happen over and over, watched as people that claim Christianity act so contrary to the God I know and can not deny knowing, as much as I have sometimes wanted to. There is no reward for our love for God, and we will be rejected by 99% of the people we meet, simply because we've lost our interest in their stupid little power games. Just as doing philosophy to seek truth is foreign to many in this age, so is being religious because we actually think God simply Is to many religious people. You will be punished, rejected, and probably have all sorts of unfortunate things happen to you if you choose this way. However, I think this is what Jesus had in mind when he pointed to another way beyond the dominant religion of his time, and I think this way transcends the power games, the pettiness, and the terrible things done in the name of corporate religion.

To those that have helped me get to this point, to see a way out of the despair I found and hid away in: you know who you are, and thank you. I could not have done it without you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

On Hipster Christianity

I was amazed to find that my friend and fellow writer Carson had recently posted about "Hipster Christianity" as a movement.


I read an article (which I am unable to find) about "Hipster Christianity" a few months ago and proceeded to write a bitter post about it, which I subsequently deleted without posting. What follows is perhaps a more measured set of thoughts regarding this "movement." Perhaps.

I use the word movement loosely for two reasons.

Firstly, the Emerging Church seems to have been the previous "movement" in Christianity, and it lasted perhaps 5 years, if that. Though my exposure to Christian subculture has been to a small community of conservatives for the most part, it seems like most people missed the point entirely of the Emerging Church when it was around. Indeed, when I can read an article citing Rob Bell's book "SexGod" as an example of Hipster Christianity and as shock value, when Bell was previously lumped in with the Emerging Church, it seems like we're talking about nothing of substance, more than people moving from one fashionable thing to another. If I remember correctly, the point of the Emerging Church was for Christians to embrace those around them, to listen instead of reacting and respond with understanding, as opposed to the knee-jerk represented so often in pop-culture that is sadly typical of many religious people. Has this movement died? Has it institutionalized already? I have observed very few people in my time in Christian subculture that responded to Emerging and newer writers that challenged the "status queue" (rather new itself, relatively speaking, even if we're speaking of Luther), and only a few reactions. Some chose to say that Postmodernism is dead and that the Emerging Church is irrelevant to anything, some chose to call the Emerging Church heresy for no good reason that I could find, and still others simply bought it, hook line and sinker, with obviously no understanding of what it is. This third reaction leads me to my second point.

"Hipster Christianity" seems to me to be the logical extension of those that liked the Emerging Church without understanding the Philosophical background and the reason it existed. There are now multiple stereotypes of a hipster Christian, and another subculture within a subculture has formed. This is not a movement, this is a subculture. A movement implies change, a subculture is a binding force with social acceptance at the center. Movements frequently operated counter to social acceptance, and in general are seeking truth in some way.

Hipsters have been around for a while, and it's just a new word for people that enjoy fashionable things. This is fine, let them do what they like. But to call this thing a "movement" seems sadly indicative of the lack of intellectual freedom and critical thought present in not just a lot of Christianity, but in many that choose to throw their support behind things without thinking about it.

I'll not doomsay our culture, for I have no authority to make predictive claims that will put my foot in my mouth later. However, I am understandably dissatisfied with a subculture that would make things that are intended to arouse critical thought, such as the work of Rob Bell, into a mere fashion statement, and denigrate critical thought to the level of merely being contrary. It is understandably frustrating to me, having had my life literally changed by reading the work of Bell and others like him.

In conclusion, I do believe the Emerging Church movement is completely dead, and has been dying a slow death for some time, culminating in this "Hipster Christianity" fad. Or perhaps my age is finally beginning to show. Either way, I can only look to those people that do still practice critical thinking and choose to respond to circumstances rather than reacting without seeing or understanding. Perhaps one day I'll return to church because of those people.

Comment is invited. If you know more than I do about this, please feel free to share.