Friday, May 1, 2009

Not Religious

I do not see myself as a religious person. That makes for a problem because some of the categories used to describe my values, dreams, and desires come out of the religious conversation. If I were to take a kind of standardized test and be asked if I am religious, I would check “No.” But some of my other answers would connect me to the religious category and thus skew the test. Of course that only speaks of the limited understanding that the test-developers have of faith matters. They throw in a few religious sounding words and feel that have captured the concept.

I don’t think Jesus ever intended to start a new religion. What would he think of what he might see today done in his name? Religion is a system developed by human construct like other systems: economic, political, educational, medical, technological, or social. Such systems spawn institutions which, although they may serve worthy ends, all have in common a desire to grasp for our souls and control our lives. Those few in strategic positions work the system to gain much power.

And I no longer am very comfortable with being called a Christian. Christianity has many faces today and a large number of them are grim and scary. I don’t want to be identified with that. My dear mother would probably wrinkle her brow considerably if she heard me make the above statement. And I regret that others I know and for whom I have much appreciation probably feel a sense of concern when I say such a thing.

So I’m not religious and I am uncomfortable being called a Christian. What should I be called? I really don’t know. Any suggestions? The country balladeer, Tom T. Hall, calls Will Campbell a “Jesus-loving agnostic.” I can see that and believe that it has a more comfortable fit. Or maybe I’m just a “listening to Jesus Unitarian.”

What do I call myself? I would welcome suggestions. Somebody help.

Does it work just to be called human?


  1. I guess this is where we part a bit on our view of Christianity. No one can deny that heinous despicable, vile and yes, frightening things have been done in the name of Christianity. I concur that I’m not sure Jesus wanted to start a religion. He did however want to shake up a few things, although to point of being revolutionary is uncertain; maybe, reforming is a better description at least for me. Jesus at times embraced being a Jew and the tradition from which he emerged. He freely pointed out those inconsistencies and perversions of the law that tended to enslave rather than liberate. Only in the voice of prophets do we get the reverb of justice that is sometimes difficult to decipher in Torah. For me, Jesus leaps out of the prophetic path that is embodied in the latter portion of the Old Testament with lively and engaging parables, proclamations and quotes that cuts to the core of what it means to be human in a just and caring manner.

    I struggle too with labels, but I still consider myself a Christian in sense that I follow teachings, reflections, and approaches to challenging situations that Jesus embraced. I also consider myself a traditionalist to the extent that I find meaning in the core sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. For Jesus they were important events in his life and what I would call religious. If I had to label myself, I might elect the nomenclature of a Traditional Liberal Christian. but don’t hold me to it yet. As I recall one of my professors, our vocation in life is living into our baptism each and every day: and that is an ongoing project that sometime require taking on a new role.

  2. In my opinion, you should indeed describe yourself merely as human, or decline to comment. Faith, whether in a creator, or in secularism is a very personal thing and should remain so. The difficulty arises, I suggest, when individuals choose or feel obliged to fall into a particular category. This gives rise to a process of fragmentation, as opposing groups claim exclusive access to 'the truth' and as historians may confirm, ultimately leads to war.
    Although I've only read small sections of your blog, you seem to have a very mature and well considered view of the world. Be proud of it and transcend those who subjugate faith.

  3. Gordon, have you read some of the writings and works of Martha Nussbaum? Your comment reminds me of her cosmopolitanism and framing a transcendence from “local origins and group memberships” in favor of becoming a “citizen of the world”. In particular I enjoyed reading For Love of Country (1996). Although more political in nature, it features several essays, not only from Nussbaum, but many other contemporary philosophers struggling with the same question.

    I concur with your assessment about the blog writer, Gary West. He is a fine writer and facilitator of current philosophical and theological issues.

  4. Hi Dad,

    I'm starting up this book project I emailed you about today, and thought I'd drop by your blog to check out some of your thoughts. I really liked this entry.

    If we claim to be Christian, we must also claim to belong to the largest group of murderers and torturers in the history of humankind. Such an un-Jesus like thing to write, isn't it? Perhaps though we should ask the Native Americans or the people in every country in Africa who speak a European language what they think of Christianity and missionaries. Would Jesus claim to be a Christian? History is written by the conquerors, and we have the fortunate luxury of wondering about Christianity. How many faiths and religions have been destroyed by the advance of Christianity? Those voices have been silenced, and there are no more lanels there.

    But, pulling back a little on criticizing Christianity as a whole and throwing the baby out with the bath water (no pun intended), I know that there are genuine, good people who intensely study the life of Christ. I know you as one of these people.

    Perhaps a perspective you should consider is one I put forth in my entry on Shinto in my blog. The problem with a label is that it's a word. Words however are not true, so there can be no way to understand God through words - since God is true. This thought is one of the first key points to emerge out of this project I'm knocking around in my head. The goal of scholarship (the study of words) is to prove something through human-created research. But the goal of faith is to know God. These two goals are two different pursuits. Which one is more important to you?

    Do you believe (or not believe) in God and Christ because someone is able to phrase words cleverly? Or do you believe in God because through faith you can witness life and nature and know that there is a power greater than us, the creatures?

    If you want a label for your belief and who you are as you relate to this belief, I'd suggest you start with "Creature." I'd also suggest that the wisest thing a creature can say about the Creator is, "I don't know." I'll revise that. I believe the wisest thing a creature can say about the Creator is, "I don't know, but I believe." When it's all said and done, isn't that faith?

    I'll suggest one other thing, and maybe we can talk about this too while we're in Vegas. Rather than focus on labeling what you are and selecting a word to summarize the ideas of your belief, take the step to "label" yourself without using a word, without an audible sound. I've taken this step, and I feel as though I've renewed my belief and my faith. Take some time to go out into nature. Watch the sun set or water flow in a stream and say the words, "I don't know." I think you'll know what I'm talking about when you get there.

    Good luck on your journey.

    Your Son,