Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On Faith and Floating ...

So, now to a major, major issue in my life. Where does a pirate chaplain turn when he doesn't know if belief in the Divine is possible?

My crisis o' faith started way back when I was at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Having no prior knowledge of Biblical exegesis, criticism, or deconstruction, I was of the extremely immature notion that "Well, it says here that ... so it must be true!"

Needless to say, that didn't last long.

Although I will always be grateful for my education at the 'div, it was a brutal experience. Nothing, and I mean nothing, survived those 3 years of deconstruction. Everything faith related had to be rebuilt from scratch, and able to withstand critique. Which was fine, because I came to feel - and still do - that if the unexamined life is not worth living, then the unexamined faith is not worth having. I left Vandy, figuring that I had it all worked out.

I don't think I could have been more wrong.

The thing is, we NEVER have it all worked out. There's always something, an event, an idea, a contradiction, that has the potential to send us into a tailspin. For me, it was being a part of two major church conflicts that turned me off of congregational ministry. What got me out of chaplaincy was the death of the idea of an interventionist God.

Most people, I think, hold an idea of the Divine that bears a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. I'm good, I pray, and good things happen. I get in trouble, I pray, and my butt gets removed from frying pan and fire. Thing is, all you have to do is spend time in a emergency room - especially a trauma center - to know that bad things do happen to good people. The common ideas of God: All powerful, all knowing, and omnipresent simply do not hold up. God cannot be all three and still be good. For if God is all three, and allows horrible things to happen (tsunamis, rapes, murders, the Holocaust, earthquakes, Glen Beck, etc.) then God cannot be good. Take away one of the three aspects, your choice, and God is less than the traditional image of the Divine.

Usually it's the all powerful aspect of God that is sacrificed (as in Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People). What many have done is drop in ideas of free will, or enter into apologetic arguments, to let God off the hook. My contention, then and now, is that if God is all knowing (or even marginally knowing), then God would have to be involved in human life in order to be good. Two years in hospital work and a few more subsequent years doing church work resulted in my reconsidering my ideas about God.

So I gradually eased my way towards Zen Buddhism, which had been an interest of mine ever since I started taking martial arts lessons as a child. Nothing is said of God in Zen. It's a non-theistic philosophy, which suited me just fine. My anger towards the church, which I felt had let me down, and my continued irritation at clergy and lay people alike, who were spouting all sorts of hate-filled diatribes against gays, Muslims (the perennial favorites) was allowed to remain at a heated level, with the added bonus that I could thumb my nose at my former home, thinking that I had found a better place with far more advanced thinking and wisdom.

Until I eventually came to realize that my ego had run rampant. Zen's big on squashing out of control egos. And all this nose thumbing was not good. So I had to re-evaluate what I was thinking, and why I was thinking it. I had to look at my thoughts on God, and separate that from my thoughts on the human institutions and actions that were God-related. Fortunately, there were a couple of incidents that helped me along.

To be continued during another boring day at work ...

No comments: