Last night, I entered a conversation about theology on Facebook– something I vowed never to do again after the “Crystal-you-must-worship-the-devil-because-you-just-said-that-David-and-Jonathan-were-in-love” debacle of 2010. (Yes, in an effort to show that the Bible is not clear on the topic of same-sex relationships, I invoked the long-controversial and hotly-debated ambiguous relationship between David and Jonathan. Both the relationship and the language used to describe the relationship are unclear, I argued. I appealed to scripture and the original language– yet I did not succeed at making my conversation partners think twice about their assumptions. I only succeeded at causing them to unanimously declare that I must “worship the devil”. Moving right along.)
Last night’s long conversation began when a friend posted a quote and asked for our thoughts on what he shared:
“Ascertaining what someone means by the word ‘love’ is almost as difficult a ascertaining what some someone means by ‘God.’ As Mildred Bangs Wynkoop has said, love is a notoriously ambiguous ‘weasel word.’” (Thomas Jay Oord)
One gentleman said that the quote made no sense, as the meaning of “love” is easy to ascertain when its definition is based on the attributes found in the God of the Bible. I wrote in response to him:
An argument can be made that much of what is portrayed as “God” in scripture is more abusive than it is loving. I do think that both “love” and “God/god” are loaded words.
And all hell broke loose.
The conversation devolved into a strange space in which I repeatedly wrote that the image of a God who would kill his son to satisfy his own wrath should give us pause. However, the gentleman to whom I was writing argued that such an image is perfectly okay, as long as it’s God doing the son-killing and not us. I wrote to him that “the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement asks us to worship that which we could never morally justify imitating,” but it was not received well. My statement was said to be the humanistic claim of someone who “thinks too much”.
As I exited the conversation last night, I remembered the first time anyone had ever suggested to me that there might be something morally wrong with my religious belief system. It happened during a chat about the doctrine of hell when an agnostic friend called my God a “torturer”. He referred to Christianity as a “cluster of recycled mythology” and to Christians as a herd of people ignorant of our own roots. I found what he said so off-putting, so utterly jarring, that I shut him down completely, and refused to even think about his assertions.
Months later, while overtaken by curiosity, I did some research and discovered that he was right… Right about everything. Right about the “mythologies”. Right about the historical use of those mythologies to control people. Even right about the average Christian’s lack of knowledge when it comes to the history of the faith. I remember being angry that I had given myself so unquestioningly to what I believed, and even angrier that given the intricate history of Christian beliefs and doctrine, there had not been more discussion in my churches about the depths of our background. This morning, upon re-reading my crazy Facebook discussion– the discussion in which I was told that it was evil for people to shun Jesus, but that God would expect a good Christian to shun a loved one with whom he disagreed– I experienced those confused, and even angry, feelings again.
I believe our churches are morally obligated to acknowledge the psychological power religions can have over people. Because we know the negative effects of fundamentalism, the complex history of Christianity as an imperial power, and the ongoing problem of Christians bypassing love in favor of division and doctrine, we have an obligation to head blind-believerism off at the pass. If the Christian religion is ever to truly be about love and not power, or love and not idolatry, or even love rather than merely being “right,” then we have to talk more openly about our imperfect, human beginnings to church attendees. This is how we become a religion that isn’t opposed to intellectualism. This is how we become a religion committed to calling all forms of violence evil, even when committed by a “deity”. This is how we demonstrate that honoring the truth is the basis of our moral fiber. This is how we cultivate a faith beyond fundamentalism.