Continuing a Conversation (1): I am Sorry

I feel I need to start off with an apology. Not a defense, but instead an “I am sorry.”

Recently, on Facebook, I posted the following as my status: “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats!” Now, I must admit that I love stirring the pot a bit; however, I wasn’t prepared for the conversation that erupted on my Wall, starting with a good comment from a very old friend of mine. Such a notion was morally irresponsible, he said, and at least if I was planning to live my life according to the fantasy of God’s existence, I should do so consistently according to our sacred texts! He was joined by another old friend, I high school buddy of mine, who have become–if I can tease them a bit–evangelical Atheists. Good news! God doesn’t exist! As you can imagine, it kicked off quick an amazing and fraught conversation, which is still ongoing, both of them clearly stating many common and/or powerful objections to Christian faith, theism, or religious practice in general.

I need to apologize, however, because it is becoming increasingly clear that I’ve contributed to some of their problems. I’ve said it before, and I suppose I’ll need to say it many times after this one: I used to be a Fundamentalist Christian. I believed very simplistic things about Jesus, the Bible, and ethics that seemed to make sense on the face of things: Anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus burns consciously in a literal state of torment when God punishes the wicked. The Bible is perfect and without contradictions or mistakes because it is the Word of God written. Homosexuals go to hell if they have sex with those of their own sex. You only need to believe in Jesus for forgiveness of sins in order to go to heaven–nothing else matters. What makes matters worse is that I taught such things as The Truth.

Now, when my friends say to me, “Christianity teaches…” and shoot it down in flames, I have to cringe and even grieve, but I was a major voice at various points telling them that all these things were so. It comes down to this, my friends: I am sorry. Part of the reason I write this way, part of the reason I’m going to spend three years writing about sex, part of reason I care about historical Jesus research and pacifism and science and political liberalism and a myriad of other issues is because I am trying to live an apology for all the damage I’ve done or could have done in my past. Not, I hope, to “earn” forgiveness–that’s only a gift, and I can only ask for it. Consider it, rather, part of my repentance: Turning away from my sin and false certainty toward my friends, and especially toward Jesus Christ, whom I hold to be the Truth above any text, including the Bible.

My friends on Facebook and elsewhere, Atheist or not: I have gotten it wrong, and I am sorry. I did not know of what I was speaking, and sometimes I still don’t. But I hope that after three years of studying my tradition in a much more in-depth way, I can speak better to the depth and sheer variety within this faith I love so much. Fundamentalism is a destructive mutation of the tradition which has cut itself of from the deep well of historic Christianity and substituted a shallow, individualistic, and often poisonous pool. For drinking from that pool and leading others to it, I am sorry.

Perhaps most of all, I am sorry for reinforcing the impression that Fundamentalism in Christian guise is “the pure and True” faith, and that all other Christians are capitulating to liberal humanism by believing differently; on further sober reflection, never mind a more gracious reading of history, this assumption of mine, which seems to fuel so much of the culture wars between secular humanists and Fundamentalists, is wrong.

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