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thoughts on religion + diversity

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

I seem to be caught in a bit of a feedback loop lately. On the one hand, I recognize that my atheist friends are good people, and my non-Christian theist friends as well. But on the other hand, I’ve been growing less and less comfortable with the idea that all religions and philosophies are equally good that they’re just different facades on the same reality. I’m a Christian because something about the Christian tradition really works for me at a deep level – it helps me lead what I consider to be a better kind of life.

My faith isn’t only ethics, but if I thought I could live just as good a life as a Buddhist or Muslim or atheist. It’s not just because I grew up in that tradition; parts of it are deeply meaningful to me and I think help me be the best Marta I can be. It adds something to my life, and I want to share those good things – not as evangelicalism, not because I am afraid of hellfire for my friends necessarily. Just because those bits of Christian ethics and philosophy and spirituality that work for me, seem good and worth sharing.

Ironically, I do find things in other religions and philosophies that have been influential on me. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, his account of the human good and the way we balance emotions and the importance of good community has been hugely influential in my thought. So has the Tao Te Ching and Pirkei Avot and poetry by American transcendentalists like Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. So it’s not like I’m only influenced by Christian writings, or only writings in general. (Give me a Louis Armstrong song or the sun setting over the skyline, or my neighbor’s giggling as we do the jitterbug…) But on books, I guess few educated people today would make that claim – the world is just so broad and open.

Still, lately I seem to be teetering between wanting to respect my friends, honoring the goodness I see in those people who aren’t particularly religious (even anti-religious) or who have other spiritualities… and on the other hand, this certainty I have that my religion isn’t just one equally good path among many. Or if it is, it’s different, it offers me something special that I’m having a hard time laying out even to myself. Because really, if I thought Christianity only offered the comfortable morality like love everyone and act justly and with mercy toward others, if it was just a facade on a kind of universal human morality, I’d probably want to be an atheist. These days, when I miss find myself missing a dead friend very, very much and remembering how angry I’ve gotten at God grieving over that loss, I also remember my prayers that God would take away my faith (yeah, I get how ridiculous that sounds) so I wouldn’t have to live with the frustration of how this was allowed to happen – I’m keenly aware how much simpler life would be if I could give up my religion! And I keep going round and round, wanting to be open to other people but more and more wanting to remember those things about who I am that I think are unique and good in themselves.

No deep thoughts here. No resolution here. And maybe this is a uniquely Marta thing to be worried about. But it really does have me frustrated and sort of dizzy within myself. Maybe I’m foolish for thinking so hard about things like this; it just seems like who I am, at some level. In any case I can’t stop being the kind of person who worries over stuff like this, somehow.


Jul. 31st, 2013 06:45 pm (UTC)
I think both this and the FB thing are at some level part of the same struggle. It's not that I didn't get what I was looking for in the FB discussion (which was great IMO) and came here to whinge about it. At one level I'm interested intellectually in how people approach this topic. But it's also a personal, emotional thing more than I think I recognized when I made that topic.

This all started with an atheist friend making a very insulting comment (not to me specifically) that the line "You'll know they are Christians by their love" was complete bunk, that everyone loved and the fact someone loved didn't show they were Christians, and that the only behavior that was uniquely Christian were things like creationism, anti-choice politicking, and turning every relationship into an opportunity to evangelize. It turned my stomach, but it also really bothered me that I couldn't answer him. I couldn't think of anything specific that was good, that I wouldn't still do if I wasn't a Christian. Hence the feedback loop. Thanks for the encouragement - it feels like I'm struggling with something big and it's not comfortable at all, but then, that's no great surprise.

I do appreciate that other people are good even though they aren't Christian. And I do get that Christianity really doesn't work for everybody. Rob Bell has some great writing on this in his recent book Love Wins - he points out that in some areas, historically, Christianity has come to represent something that means God cannot work through it with certain people, so God must work through other things. Basically, he's saying that because of the church's mucked up history and also because human nature is so varied the same set of rituals and beliefs won't be helpful for everyone that Christianity just doesn't work for everyone - and that's okay. I guess I'm not entirely comfortable with that at some level, or I can't see how it doesn't devolve into some kind of relativism where there's no truth or objective good here. And hey, I'm a philosopher - you know how batty that would drive me. :-)
Jul. 31st, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
Atheists can be as narrow-minded and mean-spirited as anybody else. They are often quite convinced of the superiority of their lack of belief, to the point that they find it entertaining to insult, denigrate and dismiss any other spiritual path. They have a similar Fundamentalist approach to things that drives me up the wall with Fundamentalist Christians, Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Fundamentalist Muslims: the inability to appreciate that others might think differently for (in their eyes) valid reasons.

I can see why what he said turned your stomach. Then again, a lot of noise is being made of late about the moderate, left-wing Religious movement and recent attempts to reclaim "Christianity" from the Right-wing wing-nuts. This is a time of friction and competition for the right to define what being a Christian entails - what defines one as a Christian. This is a debate that is long-overdue and badly needed.

I think you're just kinda at the forefront of that kind of movement. Does "No pain, no gain" offer any comfort?

Aug. 2nd, 2013 01:05 am (UTC)
Does "No pain, no gain" offer any comfort?

It actually does. I try to endure growing pains with as much grace and courage as I can muster, but sometimes I need a place to be a little weaker and admit that this is a problem for me, too! I suspect you understand.

And actually, I'm not sure I have your email address. Would you mind dropping me a line at mlaytonATfordhamDOTedu in case I want to talk about stuff privately? I always love our conversations.



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