Saturday, March 10

paradise lost

My Dad is a very involved and devout evangelical Christian. I used to be, twice. If you’ve been reading, you know I’m not any more, not at all. This makes for some interesting conversations.

I grew up Christian. Mostly post-denominational protestant, to be exact, with a good sprinkling of evangelical mixed in. I walked away once, when I was twelve, because the church we were in essentially ostracized Mom after she and my dad separated. Their hypocrisy and callousness chased me out. In their defense, their doctrine had hardly prepared them for such eventualities as real, complicated life. I spent my teens particularly angry about a lot of that.

Pushing my faith away was particularly hard on me. Because I was a true believer, bone and blood deep, the disillusionment and bitterness chewed me up, big time. I didn’t have the maturity or tools at the time to process it very well.

At twenty I met my future wife. She and her family were deeply involved in the Baptist church and, while I wasn’t enamored of that environment, I did find myself drawn back into the fold, as it were. We ended up very involved in a post-denominational movement for several years; involved in the music program (I led a worship band) and leadership activities. But again, the church had no answers for the horror that was our marriage, or for the ideas that the band I led had about not being religious and working with kids instead of doing our duty on Sunday mornings. My eyes opened to the business that is ‘church’, and to the politics involved in running a business, and I walked away from organized religion again, for the last time.

It took a couple years to sort through my feelings about that, and my thoughts on the issue continue to evolve, by design. I try to stay open to ideas, not get too locked into any one concept. I’m painfully aware, almost all of the time, of how much I, and we, don’t know.

For the record, I consider myself agnostic. I like to leave room for all that I know I don’t know, so agnostic makes more sense to me. I absolutely do not believe in any deity as presented by any religion I know about. I abjure religion and its rules and clubs and cliques and hierarchies. Considering how much chaos is the result of feuding between the “peoples of the book” – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – I consider this a fairly reasonable position.

I still respect faith though, which is one of my primary objections to devout atheism. Dawkins and the devoutly atheistic present a belief (or lack of) that’s as exclusionary as organized religion usually is; it’s their way or the highway, doubters need not apply. I don’t buy that. I still think that there’s too much we don’t understand. The scientific perspective suggests that a thing does not exist until it can be seen, touched, measured. But time and time again science has discovered “new” things, things that we didn’t know were there before we found a way to measure them, like cells, and germs, and molecules, and atoms, and solar systems with the star in the middle instead of the planet that the observers live on. I just prefer to leave room for things we haven’t discovered yet. It seems prudent.

And faith, when the intent is honest and pure and empathic, whatever the faith is in, can empower people to do amazing things.

For me, I like the mystery of all that we don’t know. I have no idea what it is that we can’t measure yet, but my experience within religion, and in martial arts, and in yoga, leads me to believe that there’s a lot of it. The mystery can, at times, make my heart sing, curl my toes, make me think I can almost see farther, into a place full of miracles and magic and possibilities.

When I left the church the first time, I threw everything out. The second time, I swore that I wouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I have a specific belief about what the baby isn’t, and that includes pretty much everything I’ve ever read about religion and the deities we’ve created. What it is, however, remains to be seen as far as I’m concerned. I don’t need to know. I want to know, but I don’t need to. And I like it that way.

Dad and I spent a lot of time talking about Christianity and religion and faith when I was in the UK a couple years ago. I felt then like I do now but, at that time, I was a bit circumspect about the degree of my separation from the articles of the faith I’d been raised in. I was vocal about my profound problems with religion, my concerns about the accuracy of the bible as a source for the laws and regulations of the Christian faith, how both affect the way church is done, and how too much of our public policy seems to be subject to the whims of the willfully uneducated. But I stopped short of actually telling him that I was a minor key change shy of being an atheist.

There were two reasons for that. First, I didn’t want to attack his faith. Like I said, I respect faith, and I especially respect his. My dad has come through some huge internal storms in his life. It might be more accurate to say that he’s still riding them out, on the fringes of the storm now, but still dealing with his inner demons. Because I don’t have his permission, I’ll leave the details obscure. More important, I’m really proud of all the work he’s done, how far he’s come, the life he’s built with his family in the UK. His faith, which is sincere and profound, has been a huge part of his journey to health. I have to, and happily, respect that.

I didn’t want to threaten that faith in any way then. Why would I want to do that, having first hand knowledge of how hard walking away from it can be? He’s smart enough, I reasoned to myself, to do his own thinking and make his own decisions. I figured I could express my concerns about the religion part of belief without challenging the belief itself.

Also, to be completely honest with both of us, there was fear. Our relationship has been tenuous at times, for years after he and Mom split, and it’s taken eighteen years, since the accident, for us to rebuild a friendship. Our ongoing e-mail conversation is hugely important to me. I love him. Our relationship may be as much about a friendship now as it is a father/son dynamic, but that’s usually true for most father/son pairing by the time one is 72 and the other is 45. I really enjoy talking religion/faith/spirituality with him, and I was worried, way back in my head, that being frank and honest might upset that, spill water into the oil, sand into the gearbox.

And then, a couple weeks ago, in response to reading things in this blog, he just came out and asked, straight up. Like I said, he’s smart, and he was reading between the lines. He asked for the whole truth, and assured me that he’d be good handling it. So I told him.

This led to some very long and in depth discussion. My opinion of Christianity as a religion, and of the bible’s veracity, is kind of blunt and, if I were still a Christian, I’d be tempted to be insulted by some of the things I believe and don’t believe. To his credit (and mine, I suppose), our conversation remained friendly and loving if really, intensely sincere.

Whatever ambiguity there was regarding the differences in our beliefs, it’s not there now. It’s new, this clarity, so we’ll see how it goes, but I trust him and respect his heart and mind, and I think he does the same towards me, so I believe we’ll be just fine. Maybe a bit different, but fine.

Change is inevitable. Honesty is good. Love conquers, if not all, then at least a hell of a lot. In this case, it’ll cover enough.


I used to love these guys. Still do, I guess, even if more current sounds dominate my iPod. Anyway, it seemed apropos...