Blog another. (Check the number later. 12? 13? 23?) Lots of mega-gigantic mega-repetitive mega-paragraphs. Christianity blah blah religion blah blah blah.
Before I get around to responding to Kineas's post, I'm going to sneak in another blog. I get these thoughts that I want to share with somebody, so I'm putting them here, under the foolish pretense that these thoughts might mean something to someone else who might read them. If you are that someone, please let me know the something that these thoughts mean, because just because they're my thoughts doesn't necessarily mean that I understand them, hardly at all.
Still following me? Alright, try this one on for size. Look, it's more about religion. I don't know who the hell is reading this stuff, but my view count keeps rising even though I keep talking about religious subjects that I would have guessed were of no interest whatsoever to anyone at Elliquiy except for me. So naturally I'm inclined to keep pushing it and testing to see just how personal and unfiltered I can be without driving away every person who's stopping by. When will I rein myself in and go back to trying to write material that seems to me to have more general interest? I dunno. Sometime, though, I suppose. :)
Wait; Kineas, are you out there, and still reading along? Alright, if you are, I suddenly changed my mind; I am going to say some stuff about the points you raised. I'm going to be a little lazy and selfish about it though; I'm going to respond in a somewhat-obtuse, indirect, sideways-kind of way, and I'm just going to hope it makes some sense to you. Let me know if it doesn't, or if it does. :)
Here's the problem that I have with the notion of people deciding for themselves how to connect with God or deciding for themselves on the shape and form of their religious observance or activity. Don't take this as criticism; take it as frank remarks from someone who knows what it's like to feel completely alienated by every sort of organized religious activity that I've ever encountered; sometimes to a greater or lesser extent, but consistently alienated. I see the appeal of turning one's back on the whole fucked-up mess that other people have made out of religion, and turning inward instead, trying to make personal sense out of religion in a wholly-subjective and yet sincere way, because the collective and objective forms of religion fall short every time, no matter how hard some of us try to make them work, no matter how hard we try to connect. [It's a loathsome thing to quote Bono in any way nowadays, but it seems pertinent; back when he could still write lyrics, he once said: "... I'd join the movement / If there was one / I could believe in / I'd break bread and wine / If there was a church / I could receive in / 'Cause I need it now
" (emphasis added by me, but it's how he sings the lines. FYI, from "Acrobat" off Achtung Baby
, the last truly-great U2 album, IMO, out of the ones I've heard.)]
The problem I have with turning one's back entirely on collective organized religion is the same problem I have with the modern choose-your-own-toppings approach to religion, which is that
1) if there is any truth out there to be found, then surely it must be available to more than just one or a handful of us; no matter how exclusionary Christianity seems when it emphasizes how few the numbers of the chosen ultimately are, it's still a long cry from being a solitary matter. Furthermore,
2) Christianity always emphasizes the necessity of communal religious observance, and the necessity of community in general; we are made to connect with each other, to love each other, and to do the hard work often required to make those connections and to show love to each other. Also,
3) I firmly believe that the only truth and the only true religion that can be found by anyone is Christianity, and in spite of the fact that we each have individual needs that we bring to it, it is not up to each of us to decide what constitutes religious truth or true religion. The truth is outside of us and outside of our control or influence; it comes to each of us who look for it, and we can only respond appropriately, by submitting to it and receiving it, including the parts of it that are very difficult to submit to and receive. There are many parts of Christianity that I would love to discard altogether, if I thought I could; my avoidance of churchgoing and my avoidance of other Christians is partly an effort to make my religion fit me, rather than submitting to the ways that it wants to change me.
It's dangerous and ill-advised for any of us to imagine that we have the wisdom or authority to craft a religious or philosophical truth for ourselves, one that works smoothly for us. It's not always supposed to be easy or smooth. Christianity seeks to completely transform each of us into something totally new and different and better than we were before, better than we ever could be without submitting to its authority. To do that, we have to let go of some of our natural impulses to decide how things should be; to have faith is to trust blindly in something greater than us, so much greater that we can't be comfortable with it in advance, we can't even make sense of it in advance. As we are transformed into the persons we were meant to be, the persons God wants us to be, we become more comfortable with the truth and begin to understand it, but that's a slow and difficult process. That's the unpleasant, "still-fucking-sucks," "cross-bearing" part of life as a Christian.
For some reason, each of us is built to want to decide all sorts of things about our lives that we have no business deciding, decisions we aren't capable of making in a healthy or proper way, not even close. God gives each of us one
choice, one huge and all-important and life-altering choice, and even that choice is far too much for most of us to get right: he lets us choose whether or not to trust him, or more specifically, to trust the truth about him that he reveals to all and to each of us in the form of true Christianity. It turns out that, since we are not forced to accept that truth, most of us freely choose to reject it, and we're all worse off because of that. Our freedom comes at a price that frankly I find nearly impossible to accept or make any peace with. If the price of freedom is the immediate and eternal happiness of many others all around us, others who are no less deserving of that happiness than we are, then it's damn fucking hard to like that sort of freedom. For me, at least. But it's the only one we have, the only one we get. We don't get to choose anything else.
[I really can't believe that I'm saying shit like this in public. As I write some of these posts, I'm really trying to just turn off my instinctive internal censor and let these words just flow out of my addled brain, unvarnished and unadorned. Let me be honest: a lot of this stuff that I'm writing is so raw that I'm not even sure if it's truly representative of my real thoughts and feelings. I'm trying to plumb my own depths here, in this blog, and I'm hoping that what comes out is illuminating and insightful, not only to any audience, but to me myself, as I go through this process of writing. I may recant parts of these statements later, or parts of the ideas expressed here; it's not like I know everything, far from it, and it's not like I'm not prone to making mistakes. At the same time, I don't post these blog entries unless I feel that there's something in them that sounds true and accurate to me, at least at this moment, and something in them that I think might be of use to someone besides me. Here's something I should put in the first post of this blog, though: take everything here with a very large grain of salt. I hope you find something truthful here, but I guarantee that you'll also find a lot of human fallibility and arrogance and idiocy, in between the parts that have value. It's up to you to figure out what's what; I don't want to withhold any parts or assume that you aren't mature enough and capable enough to do the necessary figuring for yourself.]
I'm finding more and more every day that I have a very strong personal impulse to want to earn
the good things in my life, to want to do some sort of work that actually merits the rewards I get. The "good things" and rewards I'm referring to here are the biggest and best things in my life: my sense of self-worth, my sense of knowing and relating to God on a daily and moment-to-moment basis, my sense of having been given certain priceless and individual gifts that I can exercise for the benefit of others. These are the things that make my life worth living, that make my life have real meaning. I want so much to be worthy of these enormous, wonderful things, but I'm not
worthy of them at all; I'm just another fucked-up fault-ridden selfish arrogant person; nothing good or valuable comes out of me; and I can't even be a good enough person to avoid doing awful things on a regular basis. I'm petty, I'm hateful, I look down on people, I resent them, I covet their accomplishments and gifts, I judge people right and left and hold them to standards that I myself fail to meet on a frequent basis, and I do all of that without the slightest hesitation; I'm a real lousy fuck in so many ways. :) I see these faults and problems in myself, and when I do, I want to fix them myself; I want to redeem myself and fix myself and make myself into a good, better person ... but I totally fucking fail every time I try. Every fucking time, again and again and again, and I keep trying.
This is what being a Christian looks like for me these days: accepting that I'm not in control of my own life in many ways, and that's okay, because if I can just accept the way that things are and trust that things will keep getting better, then I can finally relax and become who I'm meant to be. When I get anything right, it doesn't happen because I tried hard enough; it comes to me as a totally unearned gift, it just gets dropped right into my fucking lap, and I had nothing to do with it, it seems. (Everything in Christian life is the same way.) Meanwhile I'm busting my fucking ass every day trying to remake myself into this great talented person and trying to earn all these anticipated rewards, but really I'm just being another rat on a treadmill, getting nowhere no matter how hard I try.
It's fucking scary and uncomfortable to accept that I can't fix my own life and make myself happy, but if I trust God to do those things for me, then he will, and he has and he does and he will continue to do so ... In fact, the only fucking way that my life is going to work out the way it was always meant to is if I continually set aside my own ego and my natural impulses, and instead choose to trust blindly in a power that is infinitely wiser and stronger and better than I could ever be ... Follow that leader, chase after him, no matter how stupid I sound while I'm doing it, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable and unnatural it feels. I do it because I've seen the results time and time again; I have so many wonderful things in my life that were just handed to me, while I was busy complaining about other things that were also being handed to me, and I was busy obsessing over how fucked-up my life seemed and how hard it would be for me to fix it and make it what I thought it should be. It keeps turning out to be something else, something I didn't expect at all, and it keeps turning out better than I could have ever imagined.
This is the Christian life as I see it: continually choosing to submit and trust in something outside of myself, something real and person-al, an actual God who keeps making my life better and better, but also more and more surprising and unexpected. There's a terrible, cliche, seemingly-silly, and obnoxious phrase that many people use to describe their first exuberant foray into the Christian life, as being "born again." I hate the term as much as anyone else, because it seems so facile and so fatuous and trite and evacuated of real meaning. For me, though, I see my life as a continual process of being transformed and transformed again and again, and the transformations are often so all-encompassing and dramatic that they might seem like rebirths or like becoming a whole different and new person. So I have a certain sympathy for that annoying phrase, but I don't see it so much as a one-time occurrence, but rather as an ongoing and continual process of self-transformation -- or, more accurately, a transformation of my self, not something I do to myself but something that I allow to be done to me by an external force.
I don't think we are supposed to become wise or smart or good or better by striving to become those things; I don't think we are supposed to have good lives by deciding what that means and then striving to get a good life. I know what it's like to try like hell for years and years to do just that; it's what each and every one of us are trained to do, it's what everyone is trying to do -- make a good life for themselves. Here's what I think: It doesn't fucking work.
It didn't and doesn't work for me, no matter how hard I tried or keep trying. I'm inclined to think that maybe it doesn't work for other people either; maybe other people feel just as frustrated and disappointed as I did with the results of their efforts to make their lives into something wonderful. Maybe the privileged few who think they've made themselves happy and given themselves good lives are just lying to themselves, fooling themselves, and in their most honest and self-exposed moments, they see their supposed happiness for the unsatisfying sham that it really is. I wouldn't ever go up to any person and say that's what their life is; I wouldn't even look at another person and say that person is living a lie or is deceiving themselves; it would be totally wrong for me to judge such things about other people, because I don't know what's in their hearts or what's in their pasts or their futures. But, for myself, I have found and continue to find real happiness in a totally different and unlikely and unpopular and even contradictory-seeming way, by making Christianity the center and highest purpose of my entire life and my moment-to-moment existence. If I'm completely honest with you, I must admit that I haven't yet succeeded in focusing exclusively and constantly on Christianity all the time, but the more success I have with it, the better my life gets, and the happier and more fulfilled and more content and whole I feel. It's a gradual process, not a quick and sudden fix, and not anything easy or natural, but often just the opposite -- difficult and uncomfortable. But not in the way that other things were that I tried to do in the past; not in the way that my life was difficult and miserable when I was still chasing the things that other people seem to chase, the things I thought I had to chase and was supposed to chase.
We are built to try to give ourselves good lives, but the only way we get a life that's really any good at all is if we stop trying to give it to ourselves and instead receive and accept what God is waiting to give us, even though it might not (and probably won't) look like whatever we were expecting. He fucking hands it to us, drops it into our laps, and laughs at how shocked we are when it happens. All our efforts are nothing but folly and counter-productive foolishness. We were meant to be made happy, not to make ourselves happy ... And the happiness that's in store for each of us is absolutely mindblowing and humbling and overwhelming, and totally customized and individually-suited ... and it's a happiness that most people can't even conceive, that we ourselves
cannot conceive until it happens to us. We don't accomplish it, we discover
it, each day that we live life as Christians.
All that sound preposterous to you? Yeah maybe it should. :) But I'm being totally frank and sincere here, for whatever that's worth. Actually I'm more worried that everything I just said will seem utterly unintelligible
and nonsensical and meaningless to everyone but me. But this is part of my process: I'm learning to let go of my preconceptions and trust in impulses, such as my impulse to let these posts remain as raw and unpolished as they are. I'm hoping that someone out there will find something useful as they wade through all this dreck. If you've made the effort to wade in and got this far, you have both my gratitude and my sympathies, and my apologies, if you feel that you got nothing out of it.
This blog is feeling more and more like a private journal/diary kind of thing, like stuff I used to do when I was younger, something not even meant for public consumption ... except it isn't, and is ...
But hey, it's my
blog, right? It's supposed to be full of self-indulgent navel-gazing. How do you think I'm doing with that so far?
As you can see, a lot of the above isn't so much addressed to you as it is addressed to a theoretical general audience, or perhaps just addressed to myself, like much of this blog has been. Thank you for allowing me to riff off of the subjects you raised; if you managed to read all of it, I don't know if it contained anything useful to you, but I'm hugely grateful to you for stopping by and plowing through whatever you choose to plow through.
This is something I would say to any person who was interested in learning about Christianity or giving it any serious consideration, even if they don't accept parts of it, or all of it: there's no replacement for talking face-to-face with one of those Christians whose job it is to talk about Christianity. I am not one of those people,
no matter how much I keep yakking about religion. Any real live clergyperson has a duty to spend time with anyone who wants to learn about religion or even just wants to talk about life; that's part of what clergypeople are for, and they're good at it. I ain't, so much. Try to find a clergyperson who isn't also an asshole, or at least, one who isn't an asshole in any obvious way; some of them are, I'm afraid. Most of them aren't, of course.
One more thing, again addressed to you, Kineas, but also to anyone else: I wouldn't discourage anyone from using their own head and their own heart to guide them, and I fully expect that some heads and hearts will feel led in directions that I wouldn't go or maybe even would disapprove of. It's your life and your free choice as to how to live it. I believe God is real and will reach out to each person directly, will speak to each person's heart, and will guide you to him and to the truth -- the one and only truth.
And finally, to Kineas, and to anyone else still reading: please feel free to share your thoughts (pro or con) about anything I've said, or about the approaches you've taken personally towards your religion or your general way of life. I know I can learn a lot from you and from anyone willing to share, so I'm always very interested. :) I hope my stances regarding Christianity don't offend you, although if you actually read this entire blog (holy shit!), you're probably a difficult person to offend ... which is lucky for me, because I have some offensive opinions and beliefs.
Alright, I'm out!