Eternal Battles

I am not a Christian.

Why is it so scary to write that?

romancathchurch Maybe because in our so-called secular society, a majority of Americans still identity themselves as such, and a vocal minority righteously so. Maybe because it pains my Roman Catholic mother to think I have strayed from the faith of our ancestors (though some Evangelicals would argue that Catholics are not Christians; and the form of RC practiced in our ancestral Italy leaves plenty of room for “pagan” superstition). Maybe because the part of me so schooled in RCC teachings still has that fear that I am wrong about my beliefs, and I will be smite (smote? smitten?) for thinking such a thing, let alone publicly confessing it.

Notice I do say I have beliefs. They are somewhat inchoate and shaped by many schools of thought (some would say schools of irrationality, perhaps), but they are there. Usually. I have my agnostic moments too. Though I never – well, rarely – cross over to full atheism, even as I see why the rationally inclined might.

The two forces personified.

The two forces personified.

These thoughts spring from my latest round of research for work, for a book on the Scopes trial (and follow soon after my writing a book on Darwin, mentioned here, which unfortunately will not be published anytime soon. No, economic reasons, not the quality of the writing, thank you very much). As I immerse myself in the battles between Christian fundamentalists vs. Christian modernists, of believers vs. atheists, I look at my own beliefs. At times I envy the certainty of both sides in the latter Texas cage match; both the Christians and the Darwinists so sure of their position. Me, I have this rough personal theology, but often find little comfort in it.

I realize as I write the last few lines that I have done a disservice. Not all believers in evolution are atheists. Since Darwin’s day, some liberal Christians reconciled to their liking Christianity and evolution. Natural selection, the true breakthrough in Darwin’s thinking, was a tougher nut to crack. But some folks still say the two systems, Christianity and Darwinian evolution, can be reconciled. One of them is Francis Collins, featured here. Interesting guy who worked on the Human Genome Project, went from atheist to born-again, and has no patience with Christians who “throw…out all evidence of science” to try to square reality with their beliefs.

Gallup reports that 44% of Americans say God created man within the last 10,000 years.  These folks are the ones who, as Collins says, ignore most of what modern biology and geology say about our planet’s history. While I might envy those anti-science folks their certainty, I don’t respect their efforts to legislate their believes into civil society, as Tennessee did in 1925 and as some states and towns are still trying to do today. I’ve gotten angry here more than once about that kind of ignorance and small-mindedness. But I don’t like that I too easily get swept up in the sneering words of H.L. Mencken as he covered the Scopes Trial, calling the fundamentalists morons and hillbillies, among other things. I don’t want to be as intolerant as they are. On the other hand, I’m not trying to force my belief system, as sketchy as it is, on anyone else. Not a cool thing to do, given the Constitution and our diverse society.

I don’t want to go into that system of mine. If you’ve read the Crisis, you know it’s somewhat shaped by Buddhism (though some argue that is less a religion than a philosophy/system of psychology). It doesn’t, as I said above, posit Jesus Christ as the son of God sent here to redeem us (and yet, in those moments of catechism flashbacks, I just don’t know for sure…). My system does say your system is fine, whatever it is, as long as it doesn’t lead to harming others. Or deny what Roger Williams, a rather unpopular Christian in his day, referred to as liberty of conscience.  Ol’ Rog was an early believer in the separation of church and state; not because the church harmed the state, but the state harmed the church. Keep the two spheres totally separate, let each do its thing, and we’ll all be happier.

But our history has shown how hard it is to keep each in its own place. Primarily, I would argue, because fundamentialists of ever stripe are just not happy unless everyone believes what they do – or at least lets their beliefs dictate how everyone should act. Reading about Scopes and the creationist/evolutionist debate shows a lot of the forces that have shaped this country. It’s fascinating stuff. The debate will not end soon. Probably never. And my own debate about what I truly believe goes on too. Even why I believe. Is it a conscious choice to try to assuage my fears about existential nothingness? Is it part of a real power outside human understanding that touches me in slight ways and says, “Believe”? Other possibilities slipping through the grasp of my feeble mind?

It's all too much...

It's all too much...



~ by mburgan on May 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “Eternal Battles”

  1. Hi,
    I’m disseminating a nice interview with Natalie Goldberg and I saw your comment about her… perhaps it could be interesting for you.. ; )
    I like your post, it resonated in some ways with the last interview we had, with the gorgeous jungian Anne Baring

    warm greetings

  2. Thanks for the links and the kind words. Natalie Goldberg…that was quite awhile ago!

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