Theology

why am I still a Christian?

Last week, I wrote about some of the reasons why I still think that attending church is an important part of my faith practice, as many struggles as I have finding a church that will be a safe place for me and that I can, in good conscience, support. It sparked some interesting conversations here and on twitter, but I wanted to address Bri’s question in particular:

Personally, I don’t wonder so much why you want to go to church as why you still want to be a Christian. I hear a lot of progressive Christians talking about a struggle they deal with in trying to remain Christian but finding it difficult. I can’t relate to that at all, because for me, I can’t imagine why any part of me would want to still be Christian. What do you get out of it? What about it appeals to you?

This is a question I ask myself somewhat regularly, and there are days when I want to simply say “fuck it” and just be done with all of the questions, when everything about struggling with my faith seems so utterly pointless. Those are my extremely cynical, borderline-nihilistic days, though, and they don’t happen all that often. Most of the time I feel somewhat comfortable still choosing to be a Christian (whatever the hell that really means, anyway), and there’s a few reasons why.

The first being that the existence of a deity makes sense to me– and that I don’t find the arguments against the existence of gods or supernatural beings personally compelling. Over the last few years I’ve come to know and care for many agnostics and atheists, and as I’ve gotten to know them I’ve come to better understand why they don’t believe in the existence of any deity. It’s an interesting place for me to be–to fully inhabit a frame of mind that accepts another person’s conclusions without trying to change their mind, even though I disagree. I do not think they have faulty reasoning, or are drawing conclusions from inaccuracies. However, I also believe that my own reasoning is thorough, and I’m working with the same set of facts they are.

I never would have thought I’d end up in a place that would be happy to accept such a tension, but I am.

I think a big part of it is that for all intents and purposes I’m functionally a Deist. I believe in a deity on a rational level, but in some ways it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot when it comes down to the brass tacks of me living my life. My ethics are based on consent, not on what a deity tells me is right or wrong, and I believe that empathy and compassion should be the driving force of human action– and I think this is where I have more in common with atheists than I do with most evangelical American Christians.

So why bother with Christianity?

The answer is actually pretty straightforward: I like the theology. I’m still a Christian because I believe that God became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us, and we Beheld his Glory. The doctrine of The Incarnation is one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve ever encountered. My God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived with us, ate with us, drank with us, loved with his, had friends with us, enjoyed sunshine and rain and the sound of wind rushing over grass and trees whispering to each other and water laughing. He smiled when he could smell bread baking. He danced when he heard music playing. He laughed at good jokes and silly antics.

The thought of that … I can’t get over it.

My second favorite part of Christian theology is the Imago Dei. I’ve written some about this idea before, but I love how fully embodied Christianity can and should be. We were all created in the image of God, and that included our physical selves, which are not intended to be cast off like chaff. Christianity teaches that we won’t become disembodied souls– I’m not going to “Ascend” like Daniel in Stargate SG-1, or evolve to the point where I exist as energy on a higher plane of existence. I’m not searching for nirvana, but waiting for a physical eternity.

My body matters. My body is important. It is me, it is mine, and I love every part of it. I love that I have senses and live in a world that is overflowing with beauty and wonder and enjoyment as much as it is filled with destruction and evil. I love that when I look into the eyes of another person I am seeing God.

As I’ve become more progressive or liberal or whatever I am, I’ve started appreciating more and more that the teachings of Jesus aren’t about me sitting by myself at my dining room table every morning with a cup of coffee and my Bible and my prayer journal having my “quiet time.” Christianity is about looking around the physical world, seeing the suffering and oppression, and doing whatever you can to end it. That’s what I believe Jesus was talking about when he talked about bringing the kingdom of God to earth, for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven.

I’m in the middle of reading C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, and in talking about the Lord’s Prayer he says this:

“Thy will be done.” But a great deal of it is to be done by God’s creatures; including me. The petition, then, is not merely that I may patiently suffer God’s will but also that I may vigorously do it. I must be an agent as well as a patient. I am asking that I may be enabled to do it. In the long run, I am asking to be given “the same mind which was also in Christ.” (25-26)

I hadn’t thought about that particular line that way before, but it works for me. Jesus taught us to love and sacrifice for each other. To look around and make sure that everyone is being taken care of physically, spiritually, emotionally. We are to feed the widow and orphan. We are to liberate the oppressed.

That’s what I feel it means to be a Christian. It is both my obligation and my joy to be a part of anything that is working to make this world a better place. Christianity at its best, I believe, is about making sure no one is ever enslaved or ever goes hungry. Jesus brought healing and comfort with him everywhere he went, and that’s what I feel that Christians should be doing, too.

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  • Have I mentioned lately that I love you a lot? Because I do. <3 This is beautifully written, and I love that we can disagree and still have so much common ground. Probably specifically because your faith is embodied and not just philosophical. And certainly not pushy or evangelistic. 🙂

  • We’ve been studying my church’s Social Statements in study group recently, and the “imago Dei” has been a central theme. I agree, its beauty is surpassed only by the Incarnation. I can’t really say much else–you’ve really nailed why I love Christianity, too.

  • mmm mmm good! Just that. Thanks

  • Juan C. Torres

    I love this, Samantha!

    I love the imago dei, the incarnation, and the eschatological theme of new creation. These are the three that keep my faith going.

    Thanks for writing this:)

  • Thank you, that’s a very helpful articulation of your way of approaching faith.

  • Love this.

  • Thank you! I’ve been struggling to articulate for myself (and a few others) why I want so much to be a Christian, despite so many decades as a heathen after leaving the fundamentalist Evangelicalism of my childhood. You have put into a very few words (compared to my attempts, believe me, this was very short!) the key issues that draw me to Christianity and keep me thinking that Christianity is the language of my soul.

  • Peggy Y

    Thank you. This is beautifully stated, and rings so true for me, as well.

  • I resonate very much with what you said: particularly the incarnation of God in a human body, an idea that was off limits to me growing up. I like knowing that the God I worship understands the same physical properties and struggles of having a physical body. I love what Jesus says about redemption, of making broken things new, and his counter-cultural demand to practice forgiveness.

    But lately I struggle very much with the concept of hell, and how eternal torment can be considered justice. What is there to be gained from eternal torment? That sort of punishment is not corrective, which defeats the very idea of punishment: to learn a lesson. Not only that, it strikes me as almost unfair that the burden of warning others about hell falls to humans, to convince nonbelievers about its existence. And most importantly, if it pains God that much to know some of his children go to hell, he could just do away with it altogether and create a better system.

    I wonder how I can still be Christian and live with doubts about how that works. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

    • Aibird

      Question for you, how much of the current conception of hell biblical? In the Old Testament, it is rarely if ever mentioned, and the most you got was Hebrew words that described more of a going to sleep than anything full of torment or worse. In the New Testament, it isn’t highlighted much if at all, except for maybe in Revelations. Even then, how the words (that are often translated as hell but don’t specifically mean our modern concept of hell) were used in context, really doesn’t mean an eternal torment. There’s a lot of evidence that shows the Bible actually doesn’t describe hell as eternal torment at all; in fact, it describes it simply as a place where the dead are. You can read about it more in this essay: http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/tbhell.html

      So I wonder if your struggle with the concept of hell as eternal torment is partly because it may not truly be biblical in the first place?

      • I have wondered where the concept came from, since Jews wrote the OT and Judaism as a whole is pretty unconcerned about the existence of an afterlife. But I’m not well versed enough in Hebrew or Greek to understand the context of the verses where it’s alluded.

        • Aibird

          The essay covered a lot of it (and it’s an old essay from the 1800s actually). I know there’s other books by various Christian authors that confront the idea of hell and whether its biblical. Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Julie Ferweda… to name a few Protestant authors who have challenged the our modern idea of hell.

          It’s interesting that in the Catholic Church, the idea of hell isn’t really mentioned all that much, nor given so much power as I’ve often seen it given within various Protestant denominations. Even had a priest mention that for all we know, no one may be in hell because we simply cannot ever know what those last few moments of life were like for them, and if they accepted Christ in the end. Thus for all we know, if a hell exists, it could very well be empty.

          So even if it does exist, why does there have to be people in it? Who are we to judge who goes to hell (or is in hell)? Why do we assume there has to be people in it? Also, if hell is the ultimate torment, why didn’t God (in the book of Genesis) describe it as one of the prices we had to pay for our sin? Why isn’t Jesus more concerned about it? He rarely mentions it.

          There’s even thoughts on how the biblical verses about Jesus descending into hell (how it’s described in context and the original Greek words used), make it seem like it’s more of a description of Christ being truly dead, so in the place of the dead (sheol as the Hebrew word).

          There isn’t must in the way of biblical answers to those questions either. At least nothing that satisfies my questions on this.

          Since you expressed so much concern about trying to reconcile the idea of torment in hell, maybe we should be questioning the idea itself? Rather than trying to reconcile it?

          I don’t know if that helps you at all in your journey, but it is food for thought. I’ve also struggled with reconciling the modern concept of hell, and I came to the conclusion, after much researching and meditation, that I simply cannot and will not accept that the modern concept of hell exists. That’s where my journey took me, but it may not be where yours takes you. We are all on our journeys, and all we can do is try to support each other the best we can. I hope my questions here help!

          • I’ll check out that essay. It’s been on my mind recently because my father just died (he was agnostic) and I had a Christian friend pressure me into sharing the gospel with him, which hasn’t gone over well in the past. It was more anxiety than what I was already facing, and created more stress in my life. I accepted the idea of hell on an intellectual level but never truly challenged it before. I find it interesting that many Christians have no problem with saying who goes there and who doesn’t, but ask them about the children murdered in the Holocaust and they get quiet.

        • Lack of detailed descriptions of the afterlife (using the term broadly, since the Jewish view of the reusrrection of the dead is fairly different from most other cultures afterlife-mythologies) should not be confused with concern for the afterlife – given the messianic trajectory which winds through all of the Scripture and culminates in the very defeat of death itself (Isaiah etc), I’d say the afterlife is something with which the Hebrew people were indeed concerned with, though perhaps not in the same way as we are today.

    • And separate from duration of the punishment is the question of why people go to hell, anyway? Is it for non-belief (over which many don’t have control over anyway) or about refusal to help others (such as Matthew 25:31-46).

      • I thought it was for non-belief.

        • Which, when you think about it, makes about as much sense as sentencing people for their opinion about the formation of the moon.

    • The conception of hell that we’ve inherited (as a place of “eternal conscious torment”) is to a large extent an artistic rendering of Dante, Hieronymous Bosch, and many other artists. Not to mention that a lot (not all) of the theology about who goes to hell and exactly why (related to theories of atonement (especially penal substitution), of what Christ actually accomplished by dying and rising) is also of a similar relatively recent vintage.
      I choose not to believe in hell as a place of punishment (on many days I’m kind of agnostic about heaven as well), largely because it doesn’t seem to fit the character of a God I’d want to believe in to think that she’d punish someone in utter anguish for the rest of eternity just for simply believing the wrong thing. Especially since I know how few of our beliefs are actually under our own control; have you ever tried to will yourself to believe the opposite of what you do now? Did it work? Usually it does not.
      I’d prefer not to get my “Get out of hell free card” for relatively little effort, knowing that many other people never really had that chance. In fact, it would be my own personal, private psychological hell to have that knowledge while in a blissful afterlife. And so I tend not to believe in hell. I don’t think there’s really good biblical support for it, nor does there seem to be good logical or moral support for it either.

      • Wednesday

        I was re-reading Dante’s Inferno recently and the introduction–I can’t remember which version it was–basically said that our modern conception of hell is almost entirely Dantean. And Dante was basically creating a Christianized version of the underworld that first Homer and then Virgil wrote about. So Hell, at least, is a pagan concept with a lot of Christianity layered on top.

  • I love this ….even more that you are an SG1 fan! 🙂

  • swimr1

    I love reading about people like you who make christianity work for them. I’m an apostate that can’t find any intellectual integrity in landing where you are. Though I appreciate your explanation of your faith I have a hard time understanding this:

    “I do not think they have faulty reasoning, or are drawing conclusions from inaccuracies. However, I also believe that my own reasoning is thorough, and I’m working with the same set of facts they are.”

    Have you wrestled with the facts about the origins (and actual truth) of the biblical stories? How do you peacefully come to the conclusion that the Jesus of the bible even existed when there is no evidence outside the bible itself?

    I find your desire to emulate the idea of Jesus beautiful – but I stop short at believing the idea of Jesus as truth. Which is why my set of facts stops me from continuing to call myself a christian. Are we truly working with the same set of facts?

    • No evidence outside the Bible? That’s quite a bold statement when the general consensus among historians, regardless of religion or lack thereof, is that Jesus did exist and the ones who say he didn’t are considered by the historical community to be conspiracy theorists. A book that I would recommend to you is “Did Jesus Exist?” by Bart Ehram. Ehram is an atheist so he doesn’t exactly have a vested interest in proving that he exists but he does provide a basic overview of all of the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

      • swimr1

        It’s been at least a year since I read Ehrman’s book – but what I remember getting out of it was that there may well have been a person named Jesus upon which the various stories we have today are based. That there may have once been someone named Jesus preaching to the masses is one thing. That the (likely largely mythologized) Jesus of the bible is anything like the actual person is another.

        It is not a bold statement at all to assert that there is literally NO reliable contemporary (extra-biblical) written evidence of the person of Jesus (the one who was born of a virgin, performed miracles, walked on water, fed the multitudes, healed the sick, was crucified and rose from the dead – and then raised others from their graves). In a day and age where quite a bit was recorded there is literally nothing.

        Ehrman argued, if I remember correctly, for the idea that a preacher named Jesus probably existed. However, the person of Jesus as the bible presents him is largely mythologized after the fact. Did “a Jesus” exist? Maybe. Did “the” Jesus exist? There is no reason outside the the writings of the bible to believe so.

        • You’re moving the goal posts now.

          • swimr1

            How is that? Honestly? I think there is a huge difference between some itinerant preacher named Jesus that has been mythologized and the person of Jesus of the bible. That a normal human being named Jesus who preached against the establishment might have existed is largely irrelevant for me when it comes to believing in a virgin born, incarnate son of god Jesus that was everything the bible claims he is. They are two very different entities, IMO.

          • swimr1

            I believe Ehrman’s book says the same. Jesus the historical figure on which a largely mythologized religion was loosely based may well be real. Jesus the self-confessed Divine Savior of the world is probably not. Either way, it’s difficult for me to get around the idea that there are no universally accepted, credible, contemporary sources that speak of all the wondrous things Jesus was supposed to have done and been according to the bible. I wasn’t trying to move goalposts so much as clarify. Let’s just assume Ehrman’s Jesus existed for argument. My questions still remain.

        • Nonsense, Jesus is mentioned in the Quran, twice in the writings of Jewish historian, Josephus and once in the writings of roman historian Tacitus. If you were going to argue that he existed but is not who we think he is, why not clarify that in the original post rather than making the ridiculous statement that there is no evidence for his existence

          • swimr1

            Look – you are the one who accused me of making a “bold statement (which you have yet to refute properly). There are no writings from the time of Jesus (contemporary) at a time and place where much was written/recorded. Everything you mention was written later. Hell, even the earliest gospel was written at least 30-60 years after the events it describes. The non biblical very minor mentions (Tacitus, Josephus – are widely considered by many historians to have been altered). The Quran mentions Jesus after Christianity was an established religion. The book of Mormon also mentions Jesus, but is not considered a contemporary source.

            Let’s go ahead and argue that “a Jesus” did exist. There is little resemblance between the person outside sources have (maybe reliably) mentioned and the “Divine Savior of the World Jesus” of the bible. My first post said as much, “How do you peacefully come to the conclusion that the Jesus of the bible even existed when there is no evidence outside the bible itself?” I said “Jesus of the bible” because that’s what I meant. The Jesus of the bible (who was virgin-born, performed miracles, rose from the dead and was God in the flesh) is never mentioned as such in CONTEMPORARY sources.

            Believe whatever you like – but don’t accuse me of making statements that are incorrect if you can’t provide convincing evidence they are…

          • swimr1

            I apologize if I was unclear in my initial statement. I’ve been thinking about these things for so long now that I sometimes forget that not everyone understands these terms in the same way. “Evidence” for me has to reach a certain base standard. Non-contemporary writings of disputed authority that barely mention someone who is supposed to be the God of the Universe don’t rise to that standard. It is very curious that arguably the most important person in history is virtually unknown except for a few disputed and brief mentions many years afterward. I find that hard to reconcile with faith in the person of Jesus as described by the bible. I don’t really want to argue about it any more so if you find that evidence worthwhile – more power to you.

    • Jeff

      “How do you peacefully come to the conclusion that the Jesus of the bible even existed when there is no evidence outside the bible itself?”

      Not to speak for Samantha here, but just in general, the answer to this one isn’t too bad; it simply entails the dual affirmations that lack of evidence outside the bible probably isn’t too surprising, and that the evidence we do have in the NT accounts probably captures eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus.

  • I love the way you phrase this and I agree with you on all points. I’ve said before that if I thought for even one moment that the fundigelical version of Christ, the Ultimate Abusive Partner, were true, I’d be Pagan in a heartbeat. I cannot believe in the Abusive Christ because the Jesus I reached out to at twelve years of age… that’s not him. The God-made-Flesh who loved me enough to stand in solidarity with me, who came to free the captives and raise up the powerless… that Man is not what they say he is.

    And I love my Jesus.

    I love the fact that each individual human being reflects some facet of God, and that it’s not always the SAME facet reflected. I love that God is so complex that even as bewilderingly diverse as humanity is, there is some shard of God’s glory reflected in each person. The very concept of the Imago Dei should make hatred of any sort incompatible with Christianity, but for far too many, they just don’t get it. There are days when I fall short, too, but I’m trying.

    As for sin and the nature of Hell… I don’t have the answers any more than you do, Beth, but I cannot believe that it is for something as simple as unbelief, which is not something that is always in a person’s control. Sin… I think that Attitudes can be more sinful than Actions. I find more sin in Hatred and Bigotry than in simple unbelief, or belief in something other than Christianity. Maybe I’m simple-minded, but I find more sin in attitudes that hurt the marginalized of all kinds than in those who love each other regardless of gender or identity.

    I think God would rather we loved than hated at all.

  • Awesome post. Loved it 🙂

  • I totally agree with you about how the incarnation is the coolest thing ever. I don’t know any better way for God to show us that God really loves people. God’s not “too good” to deal with the problems of this world. God’s not above us, but God actually came and lived here.

    Plus the resurrection and how in the future, our bodies will be resurrected too. I think that’s the best story ever. If there is a God, that has to be who God is.

  • Bri

    Thank you so much for writing such a thoughtful response to my question. The way you describe it is beautiful, and I think I can understand your point of view, even though I feel differently.

    This part especially resonates with me: “I think a big part of it is that for all intents and purposes I’m functionally a Deist. I believe in a deity on a rational level, but in some ways it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot when it comes down to the brass tacks of me living my life. My ethics are based on consent, not on what a deity tells me is right or wrong, and I believe that empathy and compassion should be the driving force of human action– and I think this is where I have more in common with atheists than I do with most evangelical American Christians.”

    As an atheist and a huge admirer of your writing, I completely agree. 🙂 To me, basing your (general you) ethics on consent, empathy and compassion is VASTLY more important than whether you identify as Christian or not.

    “That’s what I feel it means to be a Christian. It is both my obligation and my joy to be a part of anything that is working to make this world a better place. Christianity at its best, I believe, is about making sure no one is ever enslaved or ever goes hungry. Jesus brought healing and comfort with him everywhere he went, and that’s what I feel that Christians should be doing, too.”

    I think what you said there is the only thought that could make me consider going back. Despite what I said in my previous comment, I have to admit that there are moments where I can see the beauty in Christianity. I just associate the label much too strongly with fear, guilt, judgment, cruelty, and abuse to ever feel at peace about applying it to myself again. But I do think that the way you see it, and the way you live it, is beautiful and good.

  • angie

    Lately Ive been wondering why I am still a Christian and praying for God to help me understand it even when I am so conflicted about the specifics and then I read this. I realized that the Imago Dei and the Incarnation fulfilling the Imago Dei is the only thing that explains my impulse to care for and find the best parts of people. I have been called naive but I think I am just looking for what people tend to bury, their Imago Dei.

  • mike

    I admire what your doing here, it’s not only a labor of Love but a window into your personal Quest for authenticity.

    I’m now at a point in my “awakening” where most everything I was previously taught and believed concerning God has been stripped away from me by objective critical scholarship, in essence leaving me in the awkward position of being without a theology per se, yet a “naked” faith in God remains intact and unshakable. I’ve discovered that active relationship/communion with God/Christ/Holy Spirit precludes the need for any dogma(s) or doctrine(s) whatsoever- as these actually serve only to separate, divide and confuse those who seek to intimately know God.
    For the first time in my life I feel an awareness that I’m now actually growing and evolving into a real-authentic-organic “Christian”..and it’s a wonderful realization.

  • Crystal

    Actually, a good place to see this is in Isaiah 1:10-20, where the Lord rebukes the Israelites for following the rules, and instead speaks to them to reconcile their relationship with Him then to help others. Interesting, that’s what makes a Christian – it’s in the OT – rather than rules. I have more to say on the subject but I must go now.

    Thank you for listening.

  • This hit me where I live.
    I’ve been living with doubt for a long time, and with that tension of holding to my faith, but accepting other people’s opposite conclusions and not trying to change their minds, and there’s no way I can easily explain it, but from what I’ve read here, maybe I don’t need to. Though it is true to say it, it seems wholly inadequate to say that your post was deeply moving. So I’ll just say thank you, and God bless you.

  • In all humility and from someone who has had to pass Bible as a subject before I could graduate high school, I still don’t understand why, when it is so clear in the Bible that Jesus is a messenger of God, it is still understood in Christian beliefs, he is God. I’m not here to argue, get into any debate or minimise anything, but it is not correct to view Jesus as God, because God is God and Jesus is Jesus. The two are not the same. As spirit souls, we are parts and parcel of the Supreme whole, but to say, we and the Supreme are the same because our eternal soul is of the same spiritual essence, is not correct. Jesus came in the world on the behest of the Lord, but it doesn’t make him God. He had to say many things at the time that was misinterpreted, but no true messenger of God, will admit ‘I am God.’ Then where does God come in to the picture, if you see what I mean?

    • Pat

      I’m not here to argue, get into any debate or minimise anything, but it is not correct to view Jesus as God
      That Jesus is God is correct according to the Bible. You can believe differently, but you don’t actually have a Biblical basis for that.
      John 1:1–“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
      John 1:14–“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
      Col. 2:9–“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”
      John 8:58–“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’”
      Isaiah 44:6–“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.”
      Rev. 1:17-18–“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

      • Bri

        Whether you think Jesus is God or not, it’s a mistake to assume that the various authors in the Bible all had the same view on it. The Bible doesn’t present a single point of view on anything.

        That being said, some of the biblical authors certainly did seem to be deifying Jesus. Isaiah, though? Even if you believe that, living centuries before Jesus was born, he was divinely given knowledge of Jesus, how did you even manage to read anything about Jesus into that quote?

        • Tim

          Bri, I think the point of the Isaiah quote was to show that Jesus (in John’s vision recorded in Revelations) adopts the same language: i.e. “I am the first and the last”. It’s not an accident. Certainly the Jesus in John’s vision is declaring himself to be Isaiah’s God of Israel, beside whom there is no other. Obviously, there are many points that could be debated, but I’m pretty confident that’s why Isaiah 44:6 was quoted next to Rev 1:17-18.

          • Bri

            Ah. Well, if that was the intention, then that does make sense.

  • jamesbradfordpate

    Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.

  • Alyson

    I also struggle with whether I can still identify as a Christian, even a progressive one. It’s hard for me to see any good in the bible. And many of the good ideas are things that can be found in other religions as well.

    I think the reason I still hold onto belief in a deity is because it is comforting to think that there is someone who loves everyone and wants the best for them. Maaaybe even tries to help in mysterious ways, I don’t know. So no one is completely alone, unknown, and unloved.

    But if you feel alone and unloved, it’s not necessarily comforting to believe someone loves you who doesn’t communicate directly and doesn’t have a physical presence. I was extremely isolated growing up, and it got me through a couple of years, but then caused more pain than anything, and it was never as good as having friends. People need people. And maybe NOT believing in a god could be more motivation to be a friend to the friendless.

  • Sarah S

    “. . . it got me through a couple of years, but then caused more pain than anything, and it was never as good as having friends. People need people. And maybe NOT believing in a god could be more motivation to be a friend to the friendless.”

    This! I relate to so much.

  • crystalmagpie

    Thank you for this post. You have put in words what I have felt but not had the phrasing to communicate. And I have those depressed nihilistic days too.

  • picklefactory

    I’m an atheist. What you say makes sense to me, though obviously we disagree on one point. I’m glad we have common cause.

  • Margaret N

    Thank you for this. I resonate with so much of it.

  • Another Matt

    I can appreciate this. I’m about 10 years into living without faith, after having grown up in fundamentalism. I mostly found that as long as I was a Christian, I couldn’t be a good person — almost in the way an alcoholic doesn’t like who they are when they are drunk. I have found classical Christianity far more nihilistic than naturalism and humanism; and even Samantha has said she veers toward a fully formed Pelagianism, which I see as a manifestation of the same instinct. My favorite Christians lean Pelagian — Fred Clark is a good example.

    More recently, though, I’ve mostly felt the sentiments depicted in Wallace Stevens’s iconic “agnostic” poem Sunday Morning, which resonate a lot with Samantha’s thoughts on incarnation and on being a physical being:

    Sunday Morning

    I

    Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
    Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
    And the green freedom of a cockatoo
    Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
    The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
    She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
    Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
    As a calm darkens among water-lights.
    The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
    Seem things in some procession of the dead,
    Winding across wide water, without sound.
    The day is like wide water, without sound,
    Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
    Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
    Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

    II

    Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
    What is divinity if it can come
    Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
    Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
    In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
    In any balm or beauty of the earth,
    Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
    Divinity must live within herself:
    Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
    Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
    Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
    Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
    All pleasures and all pains, remembering
    The bough of summer and the winter branch.
    These are the measures destined for her soul.

    III

    Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
    No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
    Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
    He moved among us, as a muttering king,
    Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
    Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
    With heaven, brought such requital to desire
    The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
    Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
    The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
    Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
    The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
    A part of labor and a part of pain,
    And next in glory to enduring love,
    Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

    IV

    She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
    Before they fly, test the reality
    Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
    But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
    Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
    There is not any haunt of prophecy,
    Nor any old chimera of the grave,
    Neither the golden underground, nor isle
    Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
    Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
    Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
    As April’s green endures; or will endure
    Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
    Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
    By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

    V

    She says, “But in contentment I still feel
    The need of some imperishable bliss.”
    Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
    Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
    And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
    Of sure obliteration on our paths,
    The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
    Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
    Whispered a little out of tenderness,
    She makes the willow shiver in the sun
    For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
    Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
    She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
    On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
    And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

    VI

    Is there no change of death in paradise?
    Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
    Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
    Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
    With rivers like our own that seek for seas
    They never find, the same receding shores
    That never touch with inarticulate pang?
    Why set the pear upon those river banks
    Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
    Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
    The silken weavings of our afternoons,
    And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
    Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
    Within whose burning bosom we devise
    Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

    VII

    Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
    Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
    Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
    Not as a god, but as a god might be,
    Naked among them, like a savage source.
    Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
    Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
    And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
    The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
    The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
    That choir among themselves long afterward.
    They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
    Of men that perish and of summer morn.
    And whence they came and whither they shall go
    The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

    VIII

    She hears, upon that water without sound,
    A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine
    Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
    It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.”
    We live in an old chaos of the sun,
    Or old dependency of day and night,
    Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
    Of that wide water, inescapable.
    Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
    Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
    Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
    And, in the isolation of the sky,
    At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
    Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
    Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

  • You state your case very well. Sorry about the dust up the other day — too much coffee that day, I guess. In any event, I shouldn’t have been so closed minded, especially since that’s what I often accuse organized religion of being. It’s just that I feel so strongly about gay rights for reasons I previously wrote. But if the church is starting to evolve on the issue (and the new pope’s comments suggest it might be) that’s certainly a good sign.

  • fabulous answer Samantha

  • Tim

    I really love your answer to this question, Samantha. I completely agree with you about the Incarnation and the Imago Dei. I would also echo Jaun Torres above concerning the eschaton – the idea that history is not cyclical or meandering pointlessly, but that it is actually going somewhere. That although there is pain and suffering and oppression and disease and hunger in this present world, things won’t always be this way. God’s kingdom really will come and his will really be done on earth, and we’ll be a part of it, like C.S. Lewis says must be.

    And although it sometimes seems like bad people are getting away with doing bad things and good people are suffering unrewarded, that in the end the scales of justice will balance (and by “balance,” I just mean balance, in the sense that we can trust the Judge of all the earth to do what’s right, not in the sense that anyone is going to endure eternal conscious torment, which I don’t believe is actually biblical).

    I understand where you’re coming from with your remarks about understanding the facts and arguments that lead atheists or agnostics to unbelief, and not being persuaded yourself, yet not seeing them as fundamentally flawed or entirely unpersuasive, nor yet feeling compelled to counter them. I like C.S. Lewis’s discussion of the virtue of “faith” in Mere Christianity. That it is not dogmatism, though sometimes both evangelicals and atheists will assert that dogmatism is exactly what it is – that “faith” means mustering up the energy to give assent to a statement that you’re not entirely convinced of just on the basis of the facts and the arguments. Dogmatism is a fragile thing. Christians, like anyone else, arrive at a mental state of being convinced of some perceived truth mostly on the basis of facts and arguments that seem persuasive. The word faith can indeed be used as a synonym for dogmatism, but the Christian virtue of faith is something else entirely, not so much about believing the “right” thing, but rather having the courage of conviction to act in accordance with what you’ve become legitimately convinced of. (Lewis offers the example of a boy learning to swim, who, although fearful of the water, trusts that his parents are telling him the truth about what he needs to do with his body in order to float, and follows their instructions, even though he’s never floated before.) There’s no virtue in believing the “right” thing. But there is virtue in trusting someone who is trustworthy.

  • Thanks for this post. I’ve been going through one of those slow crises of faith that very rarely tips me over into full-on crisis, but is still troubling. I go to church and I wonder. I pray with my daughter every night and then I wonder if I really do believe it. And I want to. As this particular process has been going on for over a year now, I doubt it’ll be over anytime soon, but your observations about your own journey just helped me clarify a few things and gave me ideas as to where to start reading some more.

    • mike

      Such a pure and honest comment, Anna.

      Know that the “slow crisis” you are experiencing is nothing unusual or uncommon, you are progressing along the same path that many of us are on. Trust in yourself as if you were on auto-pilot, the Holy Spirit is guiding-leading you now. God is living through you..AS YOU :). The books you need will find you.

  • Reblogged this on undertaking liberty and commented:
    “Christianity at its best, I believe, is about making sure no one is ever enslaved or ever goes hungry. Jesus brought healing and comfort with him everywhere he went, and that’s what I feel that Christians should be doing, too.”
    This is very compelling.

  • That was very beautiful. Wherever you land, you’re going to be okay.

    Your post reminded me of a scene in Elfquest. You ever read it? In it, elves are largely at war with humans in a mostly Stone Age analogue, except this one tribe of them that worships elves as divine spirit-messengers of the gods. In this one scene, two of the friendly humans are finally realizing that elves aren’t divine beings at all–and that some of them can be terribly malevolent to humans and other elves alike. The humans have a bit of a meltdown, but after everybody’s rested, the woman of the pair reaches a hand out to the elves’ chieftain and asks him if he’s ready to go on, calling him by the worshipful, respectful epithet her people use for the divine spirits.

    He asks the woman in some surprise, “You still believe?”

    And she says back to him, with the gentlest of all smiles, “I still love.”

    Love can be a really confusing thing, where it pops up, where it fades, but as long as you’re in a place where you’ve got it and you’re doing okay, I say go with it. (Also, glad to see you again! Lost all my links in a hard drive crash.)

  • “Christianity is about looking around the physical world, seeing the suffering and oppression, and doing whatever you can to end it. That’s what I believe Jesus was talking about when he talked about bringing the kingdom of God to earth”
    Beautifully written … Exactly the same definition I give to the Kingdom of heaven . Jesus taught about compassion and mercy , not indoctrination or belonging to a particular church. I like the reasons why you continue to be a Christian , although I don’t agree with every one of them. The modern version and interpretations of Christianity I think are based on what is convenient for the church, not for the “least of these”. We should focus more on mercy , forgiveness, grace, and service , and less on “saving souls” and avoiding “hell.” I have accepted others points of view , including atheists , even if I don’t agree. Great post.

  • Reblogged this on slow september and commented:
    I don’t intend to often use this platform to ‘reblog’ others’ thoughts – it’s meant for me to be using to write, which I neglect enough as it is – but I found this post deeply compelling.

  • Eleanor Katherine Skelton

    Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I love this post so much. It’s very much where I’m at, too.