Thursday, April 18, 2013

Questions Are OK


"My version of reality is correct, so my interpretation of your experience is correct.  If you think I should be listening to your story instead of pigeon-holing it into my neat ideas about the universe, that’s just your pride speaking.  You aren’t important at all, except as an actor on the larger stage of this one over-arching story that’s playing out.  By the way do you want me to tell you what that story is?"

That’s what’s going on when someone thinks you’re inviting them to explain the Christian narrative every time you try to tell them about something important in your life.  That’s the subtext.  And if you find it painful and bewildering as an outsider, imagine how impossible it is to even function as a healthy human being  when you grow up with that idea constantly pounded into your impressionable brain.  Your experiences aren’t as true as the things that we’re telling you are The Truth.  Don’t worry about it, you don’t have to figure it out, because we already figured it out for you.  If you disagree with what we think, you are wrong.  For your entire childhood and high school years, if you try to come to a conclusion on your own you are wrong, you are wrong, you are selfish and prideful and sinful.

I am sure that some peoples’ experience of reality has led them to legitimately accept conservative Christianity.  That was not, for them, a wrong choice.  But certain brands of conservative Christianity then become so all-encompassing that it’s impossible for these people to relate to anyone whose experience of life has led them to different conclusions or even to a general “I’m not quite sure” mid-way stage in life.  These conservative Christians think they have arrived, think they have the basic framework of everything figured out, and they have very little patience for people who are still asking honest questions about life and spirituality.  “Why ask questions when I have the answers right here?”

It’s even worse when someone is raised an ultra conservative Christian and then realizes the way they were raised doesn’t square with their experience at all.  When I come to a point where I have more questions than answers, most of the people I grew up with are frustrated with me.  They hand me the same stock arguments I was taught to accept years ago, as though that will solve everything.  Every word they say to me is something I used to believe, something that just doesn’t work for me anymore based on the actual everyday world I’ve encountered.  And I’ll explain, I’ll try to point out some reasons why I am having the question I am having or have reached some conclusion counter to their conclusion, and they will just give me the same conclusion I’m contradicting or questioning.  “You know this, I know you do, so why are you questioning it?  You’ve been raised right.  What’s the matter with you?  You used to believe the truth.”

And that’s a problem which often arises with belief in a knowable, absolute truth: people like to think they’ve discovered it.  Which makes everyone who disagrees with them at best a fool and at worst a stubborn sinner bent on questioning God.

But we’re not handed answers at birth.  There’s no playbook to life.  We can learn from the wisdom of people who have lived on this earth before us, but by virtue of being an individual human being we are each given the responsibility to find our own beliefs.

I have met wiser, more compassionate Christians, who believe that an honest truth-seeker will find the truth.  They still assume there’s a knowable absolute truth, but they don’t think it’s their job to impose it on everyone.  They don’t think people who are asking questions or who are uncertain are sinful.  To these Christians I say thank you for showing me that not all religion is toxic.  And to the exasperated people who don’t like the questions I’m asking or the conclusions I’m honestly arriving at: you believe that God chooses before the beginning of time who is saved and who isn’t.  So relax and have faith that if I’m destined for salvation, he’ll get me there.  Don’t make the process longer by shutting me down every time I try to talk through some of the steps I’m taking on my journey.

Bottom line, whatever you believe or aren’t sure about, it’s your experiences that got you there.  That’s good, that’s how life was meant to work.  But don’t arrogantly assume that the fact you’ve reached your own conclusions gives you power over the experiences of others.  It is my responsibility to interpret my experiences, and I’ll ask for your help if I need it.  You don’t need to think my questions or my conclusions are valid, but you do need to respect me enough to believe I came by them honestly.  Let’s try to do this whole figuring-out-life thing together, and stop playing power games with other people’s personhood, sanity, and destiny.

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