By Ron. L. Ryan, DA., Ph.D., Rev.
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefor, get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. … Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding. (Proverbs 4: 7).
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15).This is not so much a response to a direct question as it is some sort of reaction to a comment, or someone thinking out loud, or almost thinking, maybe a little wistfully.
This is not so much a response to a direct question as it is some sort of reaction to a comment, or someone thinking out loud, or almost thinking, maybe a little wistfully.
The comment had something to do with the maybe half-hearted thought that one might go to church if an accommodating church were available. It wasn’t necessarily directed at me or to me, and I think that there was no expectation that I would respond at that time.
But, I will respond.
The comment was made by an acquaintance during the course of a conversation, the meaning, as I understood it, to be that the person speaking would like to go to a church if the church wasn’t fundamentalist.
The fact is that there are no non-fundamentalist Christian churches! Select any Christian church, ANY Christian church, in North America, with the exception of Unitarian Christians, and you are into a morass of fundamentalism and literalism. Even those churches who consider themselves “moderate” or “liberal” are still steeped in literalism. That is the situation! There are no Christian churches that are not fundamentalist and literalist! None! However they see themselves and however they present themselves, scratch a little below the façade and you will find it.
Easter is upon us. In general, there are two groups of responses: (a)those who reject (or, at least, do not accept) a physical resurrection of Jesus and, if they ever went to church, no longer go, although they gaze wistfully at one or other of the local churches, and somehow wish they could attend and be “comfortable” with the belief system. (b) Those who accept the literal, physical, resurrection of Jesus, even if the Bible does not support that belief! This includes those who attend church once or twice a year, Christmas and Easter, because it salves their conscience.
Neither group, those who reject the literalism nor those who embrace it, understand metaphor, myth, drama, representation, allegory or anything that is non-literal and non-representational.
Those who go to church cannot dream of non-literal response to the Judaeo-Christian scriptures. Curiously, neither can those who do not go to church. In fact, neither group wants to. The first group is too fearful, for the other group It may simply be too much trouble; they do not want to be bothered! Both groups are responding to literalism; both groups responding to fundamentalism; both groups responding to the desire for certainty.
Those who are still “in the church” are there because they believe that they have found certainty or, at least, they have convinced themselves that they have found certainty. Those who have left the church have, in general, left because they could not find certainty. But, certainty is the centre-piece! If those in church would allow themselves to be shown that there is no certainty, that their certainty is, well, less than “certain”, they would leave the church because they do not understand metaphor and myth. If those who are “outside the church” thought that someone could demonstrate some sort of certainty, then they would be back in the church because, they also, do not have an understanding of the power of metaphor and myth.
In fact, there is no certainty. The only certainty is that there is none. At most, there is only statistical probabilities. Scientists, long ago, now, have abandoned any notions of being able to find or establish certainty. Scientists thought that they had found certainty when those of the ilk of Newton established mechanical “laws” supported by techniques such as calculus. Einstein came along and demonstrated that Newton’s laws applied only in certain, very specific, abstracted situations, never in real life, simply because real life could not be made to conform to the conditions that Newton’s laws required, that the most they could come up with was a probability, a solution that, in real life, was always “plus or minus some factor.” Einstein’s laws were assumed to cover what Newton’s laws could not. However, with the integration of space and time, with relativity, we came to realize that Einstein’s laws had application only in certain situations, always with the approximation, the fudge factor, or plus or minus some, maybe non-measurable, amount. Then, when we stumbled unto particle physics, we though that we had finally found certainty, only to discover that the quantum was not well-behaved. We had the disconcerting realization that a quantity could be in two places at the same time, that we changed reality by observing it, that one particle could influence another, instantaneously, at a distance! The deeper we got, the more weird it became; the closer we though we were getting to physical “fundamentals,” the more it appeared that we were dealing with religion, or at least philosophy, with overtones of mysticism.
Within Christianity, we insist on certainty. We want to ignore that virtually all of the stories in the Bible – especially those in the New Testament, and the bulk of the Old Testament – were no more than dressed-up re-writes of ancient Egyptian mythology. If Jesus had been able to read the old Egyptian manuscripts he would have been astonished to read his own biography – written as much as 3500 – 4000 years before he was born!
Curiously, even if you, the reader, are disbelieving of these historical facts, the early church fathers were not. They, in fact, acknowledged that there was virtually nothing in the so-called Christian gospels that had not existed thousands of years previously, that a real “Christianity” predated their Christianity by thousands of years. These church fathers explained the phenomenon away by saying that the devil had gone back in time and had created the old manuscripts and records, just to confuse the Christians.
Now, pragmatically, how to deal with this?
The fact is, if we cannot, if we do not, know how to deal with true myth, and allegory, and metaphor, then we cannot deal with it because we do not have the tools. In order to construct a house, we need the proper tools: saws, hammers, nails, screws, levels, squares, planes and so on. Without the tools, the house that we can construct would be crude, indeed!
The tools we require to deal with the “scriptures” are analogous. They are as stated: understanding of metaphor, allegory, myth, techniques of story-telling, supported by mindfulness, rationality, logic, a commitment to truth, even uncomfortable truth, a commitment to ethics.
I not only believe that having an active spirituality is essential to a fully integrated and whole life but, further, it is even within the context above that I urge you to consider your own spirituality. An active spirituality is so important to me that I, not having other proximate options, attend a church where almost all of the congregation – but, not quite all! – are literalist and fundamentalist, even if muted in practice. I enjoy attending church and, thankfully, am able to enjoy that church at a metaphorical, allegorical level while most of the congregation enter into the spirit of their worship from a literalistic one. I regret that even that church has regulations that deny my “membership” unless I can avow a declaration with which I do not believe. But, that is typical of all churches with the exception of Unitarian ones … and, even there, there are exceptions to the exception!
So, believing that an active spirituality is essential to every person, I urge you to consider your options. As I see it, they are, more or less, as follows: (a) Return to the church of your youth and become actively involved; (b) Explore other churches within your reasonable proximity; (c) Start your own independent congregation; (d) Start an independent Unitarian Christian congregation under the auspices of UCCA; (e) Begin a group and explore, together, how to practice a meaningful spirituality within an environment of mutual support; (f) Actively construct your own active, private, spirituality practice, and include those elements which are meaningful to you; (G) become part of an on-line congregation or spiritual group. There are many such. (H) Explore other religious traditions and determine whether any of these resonate with your being.
I recognize that there are difficulties with all of the options. In the first instance, there is probably no doubt that you will have to compromise. In some of the options that I have suggested, the only manner in which you can be fully active is by declaring your belief in a creed or statement of faith of some sort. Most of you know that already; you have experienced it. In the context of some of the options proposed above, you already know that you will be under considerable pressure to demonstrate your commitment, probably those same pressures which led you to disassociate yourself from your faith group(s), in the first place.
But, I believe that an active spirituality is so important that I urge you do “do something,” something active, deliberate, mindful. I believe that an active spirituality not only will support your everyday living, it “can” also prove to be a source of support – and inspiration – when you experience the rough spots of life, and there are few of us who do not have to face such experience, at some time or other. (I am not suggesting spirituality as an insurance policy, although I know that that is exactly what some of the churches available to you purport to provide. But, I am proposing that you undertake a program of “self care” in much the same manner that you eat carefully and mindfully; that you indulge some activities sparingly and moderately because they are simply not good for you; that you become mindful of your spiritual needs in the same manner that you provide for your mental-emotional-social needs; that you are not “whole” until all of your needs are mindfully taken care of and are integrated into your personhood.)
Whatever you do, make an effort to surround yourself with supportive people, people who will not attempt to exert their narrow perspectives on you but who will support you as you explore a spirituality that resonates with your own being.
Whatever you do, remember that you are important; you are divine; you are deserving of every grace that the god of your heart is able to supply.