As the rivers of life, knowledge, and love flow ceaselessly forward, they are channeled in two ways. Answers to the problems of living, knowing, and loving act as banks to the river for a stretch of space-time. They carve out and hold a way of living, knowing, and loving. As far as that goes, it is good and valid. But the nature of life, learning, and love is also one of change, growth, divergence and diversity. Questions act as forks in the river. Questions open the way for the multiplication of avenues for life’s energy to flow. What was once a single river can – through many questions – bleed into a fertile river delta.
Any system, institution, or person that prohibits questioning is highly suspect. To forbid curiosity is to suppress Life, Learning, and Love in their very essence. It can work for a while, but eventually the water pressure will build and overflow the banks, flooding the countryside. Instead of a fork to multiply the river in useful and directed paths, a million shallow rivulets may appear instead. All obstacles to this eternal Flood will be overcome.
In the seminary I attended, we students were basically told which questions we could ask and which answers could be given. Everything was supposed to be neatly tied up in a coherent ‘systematic theology’. Questions and answers from outside this system were ignored, dismissed, or discredited. In my own faith community, intellectualism and ‘higher learning’ were viewed with suspicion because of the possibility that they would lead to apostasy. Every human system has boundaries, and if curiosity is left unchecked, eventually someone will reach the boundaries and try to cross them. What I reacted to so virulently in seminary was the hypocrisy of a) teaching us students to interrogate the Bible using secular, semi-scientific methods while b) warning (and forcing) us to suspend those same methods at predetermined limits beyond which ‘faith’ was to come into play. This lack of intellectual integrity repulsed me. I was also appalled to discover the widespread support for this dis-integrity among my several communities of faith.
All that to say: I am incurably curious, unquenchably questioning. This puts me at odds with any system or institution for which learning feels like a threat. A journal entry from April 5, 2008, gives a glimpse into the inner inquiry always raging inside me:
So who am I anymore? Some time has passed since I’ve ventured out into the desert (or garden?) of inconclusiveness, a no-story land littered with the blanched skeletons of formative mythologies. I am looking for something, and I suspect that whatever I find will not be ‘it’ – so that I really don’t want to find anything.
Am I a Christian? That depends on definitions. Is ‘Christian’ a fixed, absolute category whose members all possess a set of necessary characterizations? Or would it be a category with fuzzy boundaries, one whose members must share a minimal set (one or two) of necessary traits? If so, what would those be? Faith in Christ? What is faith? The assent to a discourse-mediated reality one ought not scrutinize too closely? Who is Christ? The god-man come to save the world? What does that mean?
If to be a Christian, in a minimal sense, is to ‘follow’ Christ in such a way that Love – a benevolent, self-sacrificial, life-giving right relation with all the cosmos – is evermore embodied in one’s life, then I hope to be a Christian.
The webs of thought we spin and in which we become entangled often hinder the embodiment of love more than help it. I feel that, for all my shortcomings, I have known God and that I have known love: life-enhancing, relational reciprocity with other people, with the animal kingdom, with landscapes, and so on. Perhaps, then, I have an inkling of when love is absent, to one degree or another…Of course there are many who embody love for me…and they give me hope.
But let’s take a step back. Why am I even having these questions? What happened in the last five years to bring me to this place? I never once woke up and decided to starting doubting what I’d always believed. I put my faith in truth – believing that in some mystical way, Christ is Truth and will lead seekers to himself – and was never afraid of what I found. I have always, to this very day, wanted to intimately know the true nature of reality, regardless of what all the other voices are clamoring to tell me about that reality. My search for truth in graduate school led me slowly by slowly away from the secure, comfortable, and satisfying answers I’d been taught.
Frankly, by all appearances, the Bible does not tell ‘the truth’ about the cosmos as it is in its raw, phenomenal, uninterpreted, terrifying reality.
How can ‘truth’ be both factual and personal, be both a) how the world really is, and b) the person Jesus Christ (as mediated by the Bible)? The first conclusion I came to was that this must be a false dichotomy: the never-ending tension between science and religion must, in my view, be evidence of an inappropriate conception in either or both realms of belief and practice [science and religion]. The notion that the world is the way it is – is a way – is so intuitively obvious to me that I begin by putting the Bible on ice. That’s one way to alleviate the tension.
But I think a more fruitful approach would be to reinterpret Jesus Christ in a way that satisfies both definitions of truth: 1) the true nature of reality and 2) whatever it was that Jesus embodied such that he could [reportedly] claim he was the truth.
The author of John claimed for Jesus [giving him the name Logos – the Greek principle of the intelligibility of the cosmos] that he was, in his personhood and personality, the true nature of the cosmos as a whole. Insofar as he was God’s son and shared in the divine nature, ‘God’ also refers to the true nature of the cosmos. Also from John we are told that the true nature of God is love. What is love if not this: a) the desire that the other lives, and b) the knowledge that the other desires you to live? Thus to know the truth is to know Christ is to know God is to know that the cosmos is a system of incredibly complex, infinitely diverse loving and procreative interrelationships. To know truth is to know the anti-Christ is to know Satan is to know that the cosmos is also a system of destructive, life-quenching forces militating against loving, procreative interrelationships…
This will be my religion: to love myself, other people, plants and animals, the earth, the One who holds them in relation, and the One who most perfectly embodies the relation. I will care not for institutions or denominations, mythologies or theologies, but only that what I do and say may situate myself in right relationships which fight for the life of all living things.