Friday, July 6, 2012

On Sin, or True Dissonance

I don't even know what to write right now. This may make no sense, but I have some things to process.

How does a person deal with all intellectual structures around them falling out from under them? How do you deal with your reservoir of faith running totally dry? What do you do when all of the answers of spiritualists, mystics, religious figures, and those you've grown up listening to sound like nothing more than abuse? What do you do when you realize you've been psychologically abused for a good portion of your life?

You are worthless. You are a sinful, horrible monster. You are broken. You've missed the mark. Your best intentions are filthy rags. You don't know what you're doing. You're horrible. You suck. You must constantly repent, constantly be sorry, and constantly deny yourself any happiness. You need our answers. We know God, and the only way we can be sure you do is if you gain the same understanding that we deem spiritual. You better not be wrong, though your nature is to be wrong constantly. You must doubt yourself constantly, never have confidence, never be correct, always be self-deprecating. You are a fool, but you mustn't call your neighbor a fool. Your neighbor is anyone else. They must be allowed to run you over constantly, because you are worse than dirt. You deserve to be persecuted. You deserve death. You deserve eternal torment forever. You are worthless. Your sex drive makes you sinful. Your questions make you arrogant. Your humanity makes you useless. Your ideas make you heretical. Your creativity makes you threatening. Your compassion is empty, your grace hollow, your beauty pointless, your mind broken, your heart evil, your soul monstrous. God loves you anyway, because we say so. You should be grateful.

It hurts. Beyond any thoughts, any reason, any movement or investigation or research or experience, I must admit to the fact that I have been abused by those who claim to be in authority. I have never been sexually abused, and I've never been hit in my life. My family is wonderful, and I've had good friends for most periods of my life. But I have learned the mantra of self-hatred, and it is attached to growing up as a Christian. I learned in Christian school that when one is angry at the church, the first question one must ask is "who is it?"

There is no one person. It doesn't matter which theology, which church, which sect, which movement I deal with, this mantra is always a part of it. Even those centered on grace cling to the doctrine of sin. Whether it is phrased that we accept salvation so God does not allow or cause our eternal torture, or that we live in salvation to participate in who God is, and any other way to live is hell, Christians still speak of hell constantly, whenever salvation is spoken of. Because we are so free that we can choose whatever we want, even though God's way is the only real way to live.

The question is...who has articulated God's way correctly? Has the Roman Catholic Church? Has the Protestant Reformation? Has Islam? Has Judaism? Has the Orthodox Church? Has the Pentecostal Church? Has the liberal sections of Christianity? The UMC? The Baptists? The Anglicans? Are there actually multiple gods? Who is God? El? Allah? Jesus? Yahweh? Which way is the correct way?

"We shape our god, and our god shapes us." This is from the only man that has ever portrayed religion to me as anything but abusive. The movement itself, which has emerged from the Postmodern world's religious sentiments, is a complex form of psychology, rooted in the historic orthodox Christian faith. An acknowledgment and apology for the history of religion, and a willingness to be progressive, to move forward, to narrow one's focus to only who Jesus is, reinterpreting the ancient scriptures through that person. Incarnational, compassionate, and focused on a God that simply wants to reunite with humanity. In this framework, sin is us, however it actually happened, losing a relationship with our creator. His desire to reunite with us is what drives his actions. We were made to create as well, and we do it through relationships, art, science, philosophy, religion, history, literature, and culture.

The question much of the historic, orthodox Christian faith is kept in this movement? It is ecumenical in focus, often including other religions. The notion is that God has been after humanity for a while, but we must choose Him as well. Religions are the byproduct of us sensing the spiritual world.

Ancient Christianity is not progressive in nature, and is concerned with continuing the traditions of the religion itself. Church history has been fraught with power struggles, war, death, movements and reformations, and all of the things that we've come to expect of humans through study of history and our nature. The thing is...if empirical science proves something wrong, then religion has no choice but to change it.

So, we are left with two questions. Firstly, given how little we know about the universe and existence, how can we be sure that our scientific conclusions are, in fact, correct? Secondly, how can a God, whose nature is unprovable, exist at all?

1. Science, by its' nature, is a method of progress. The more we study, the more we understand through research and observation, the better science becomes at portraying the universe. That said, the more we study science the more questions we have, and that is the beauty of it. Will we ever understand all of existence? I simply do not know. We constantly revise our picture of reality, and it could be uprooted at its' core by some discoveries. How can we be sure we are correct about anything? This is why philosophy is necessary. We are now progressing into Epistemology and questioning empirical sources.

2. God's every move avoids giving irrefutable proof of his existence. We are given the gift of faith, which is to say, the hope for things unseen. At some point, all of humanity has some sort of faith. Philosophically, these are more accurately termed to be presuppositions. For example, I have faith that what I am looking at and interacting with is, in fact, reality.

However, religious faith, particularly theistic faith, is entirely different. You see, the nature of Jesus is relational, by a matter of course. He is a proof of God's existence, God in flesh, but only if you believe the miracles reported by ancient sources, uncorrelated by any other historical sources outside of the Christian religion. What then? Is this merely an anti-faith bias I am spouting, or is it possible that historians had a religious agenda around the founding of Christianity? Does not every religion believe that it only exists because it is true? Is this not believed by any devout believer of any religion?

So there is a God, who is all powerful and all knowing and compassionate and loves humanity, but there is a marked lack of evidence of such things in our chaotic world. The answer, of course, comes from the fall. We are totally free, we are the ones destroying, and we are the ones that can create and come back to God. In this sense, God is a moral standard. All good things happen because of God, and all evil happens because of humanity, or if you wish, the devil.

We have once again circled around to sin, and its' meaning as us being evil, us being separated from God, and us being uncertain about everything, necessitating faith. The empirical gap presented by science and philosophy and human understanding of the universe is used as an epistemic wedge that drives us toward faith. In this sense, the conflict between science and religion is very true indeed.

So the real question is simple. Is religion worth trusting? At the end of the day, it always seems to come down to that. Religious claims can only be made in ignorance or by trusting in a historic source. Before a movement is a religion, it is simply a spiritual proposition. The problem is, things like hell and judgment cause humans to panic, and do what they can to avoid horrible things. The instinct of self preservation is at work.

I have severe problems trusting authority, and the simple reason is because I am entirely sick of being told, implicitly and explicitly, how horrible of a person I am. The religious would say this is self-centered and arrogant of me, but they must also acknowledge their own self-centered nature by attempting to avoid hell and judgment, and their own arrogance at claiming to know all of the answers.

Religion always boils down to what humanity is saying about the spiritual world. I have no doubt that the spiritual world exists, because of my own experiences with it. There is definitely something more to our existence than being animals that have evolved on a planet in one universe of millions that barely understand reality. However, I must also acknowledge that part of the reason I believe in spirituality and in the idea of God is because there are people I trust and admire that also do. I must also acknowledge that I am not the most objective person right now, and that I have trust issues, systemic of things I probably do not even understand about myself yet.

What I do know is that I love understanding psychology, religion, philosophy, and this thing called spirituality. I believe this is an art, and I will probably spend my life studying and creating in it. For me to do this, I must leave behind this notion that I am inadequate. It has been toxic to me for my entire life, and I am sick of it. Even if the notion of sin is true, I learned when I was very young that sin means I must berate myself, and it has always held me back.

I also know that I cannot sacrifice my intellectual honesty just because I am uncomfortable questioning something that has been part of my identity for a long time. No matter the consequences, I must move forward. I simply have no more faith left to give to this destructive culture I have grown up in. What does this make me? I have absolutely no idea, but it's pretty interesting.