Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian, Part 2 November 15, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: Bishop Spong, church of christ, god is dead, hopeful agnostic, Nontheism, panentheism, The Episcopal Church, uncertainty
There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demand that somebody free it.
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out
(Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, The Avett Brothers)
My drift to the left started long ago, dating back to my time at the very conservative Harding University, (this has been documented extensively in my Losing My Religion series) but it was some time later before I took those first difficult step on, as the aforementioned Avett Brothers might say, that road full of promise. Many had wondered aloud to me in those few years before we finally stepped away from the Church of Christ, “Why do you stay?” and, truth be told, that’s a tough question to answer. Growing up in the CoC, it becomes a part of your identity, a notion of who you are as a person. It’s as much a part of you as the color of your eyes. Moving away from the faith of one’s youth is like cutting off an arm or leg, leaving behind a feeling of uncomfortable incompleteness and pain, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce.
But it was not just the church being pruned from my life like dead branches, this issue went far deeper and far beyond even that. By that time I had spent years in study, searching for truth in books of all types, in conversations with other questioning friends, and in deep self-reflection on my own personal experiences and what they meant for the entire structure of my belief system. The foundation was crumbling from beneath and bit by bit the building was falling apart, littering the ground with notions of past ideals once held dear. And as those once concrete precepts crumbled to dust and were blown away in the wind, something became terrifyingly clear.
God was dead.
But this is not just any god, it was the theistic notion of god beaten into my head all those long years, the fear-riddled ideas pounded into my skull with violent zeal by preachers and teachers and peers had dissipated into nothingness. Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose writings have proven to be one of many great influences on my thinking, describes the theistic god thusly: a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside this world and invading the world periodically to accomplish the divine will. I wrote a short series on Bishop Spong and nontheism about a year ago and though it was quite enlightening to me, the vehemently negative (and incredibly insulting) reaction from others proved to be the final nail in the coffin for any personal conception of the god of theism. The way back had been barred and there was no return.
Recently a good friend of mine, a free-thinking person with little use for churches or organized religion, asked me, “What do you think of God?”
I stopped for a minute to formulate an answer to this all-important question, futilely attempting to sift through mountains of reading and reflection with my addled brain. It’s not an easy question to answer and I feel little certainty about any conclusion to which I might arrive, and to that extent, I tend to think people who are certain are most likely wrong.
After a few moments, I answered using a phrase that I had heard or read somewhere in the past, “I think the best way I could describe myself is a ‘hopeful agnostic.’”
I think there is something out there bigger than me, some cosmic force connecting us to each other and to the world and the entire universe around us. I don’t understand it, I can’t describe it, but I think it’s there. It permeates the fabric of reality, it swirls around us unseen, it flows through each and every one of us like a great rushing river with an infinite number of tributaries. It is being. It is love. Its presence fills us all to one extent or another.
I concede that there is little concrete certainty to be found in my personal beliefs. I don’t hold to traditional concepts of an afterlife to be pined for or to a divine, vengeance-seeking, lightning bolt-throwing being on high. I like it that way. I find some comfort in mystery and unknowing and in just living.
So, one year ago we walked away from our Fundamentalist background in the Church of Christ looking for something more, something different, something more accepting, and we found it right away in The Episcopal Church.
To be continued…