I’ve always been an insanely hopeful and optimistic person. I’ve always had a plan, a general idea of where I was going, why I was living, and what I stood for. Despite always feeling like a weird outsider (P.S. #2), the crushing disappointment of the numerous unrealized potentials of my life (P.S. #1), or the confounding setbacks that seem to come out of nowhere (P.S. #3), I’ve generally managed to keep my head high, formulate a strategy to move forward, and do so with gusto.
Lately, however, that spark has begun to fade. Time has begin to wear off the edges and as 2015 comes to a close I couldn’t be more confused with where my life is going, where is should be going, and what the heck I’m doing.
In July I moved to Dallas, Texas, and one thing became immediately apparent: My GPS totally doesn’t work here. Everywhere I drive my Google Maps jumps my location this way and that, sometimes a half-mile off course. The complicated highways and poorly placed road signs are confusing enough as it is. One day I spent 30 minutes going in circles trying to get on the highway – a leg of my trip that should have taken 3 minutes.
But I’m not talking about faulty technology here. That little inconvenience is simply a sad metaphor for what has happened to my life in 2015.
I moved to Dallas because I thought I was finally going to enter into that “happily ever after” phase of my life where the person I had been carrying a torch for the past decade and I were finally going to be together and embark upon a new journey of love. Due to my own stupidity and some weird misunderstanding I still can’t fully comprehend or explain to this day, that fell apart before I even arrived.
I moved to Dallas thinking that I was about to embark upon an exciting new career with a wonderful company doing that one thing I enjoy almost more than anything: having a meaningful and positive impact on children’s lives. Within two months that entire dream burned out in spectacular fashion. And despite the fact that by some miracle I have a new teaching job – that I absolutely love, by the way – the whole ordeal has left me questioning myself more than ever: Is this something I’m actually good at? Is this really what I am supposed to be doing with my life? And how long until I either screw this up or it gets taken away from me like everything else?
Those are the least concerning unknowns though. Why do I even want a job? What is the point? What am I accomplishing? Where is my life going? Am I actively taking control or just passively along for the ride at this point? If I need to take control, where do I even want it to go?
At 35, one could say that what I am experiencing right now is an extremely early existential midlife crisis. Fair enough. As I consider the things that have always mattered the most to me: family, faith, and fighting to make the world a better place, I can’t help but reflect upon how years of meaningless victories and stunning defeats have brought me to this sad mental state. It is more of an entire life crisis as far as I’m concerned. I have never felt more lost and without a road map than ever before. Where did it start? Where does it end?
Hop in the car of reflecting on my life and join me for what is sure to be a confusing as hell ride that I can make no promises will end up getting us anywhere…
Failure to launch
Probably the biggest disappointment I have wrought upon myself ties into one of my most deeply held values. I grew up in a large, close knit family. My warmest memories are ones of time spent with family. Heck, my most significant memories – warm or otherwise – involve family. As a pessimist, I always thought I would be married and starting a family by the time I rolled into my late 20’s.
Now, as I slide down the back end of my 30’s and watch in horror as 40 fast approaches I couldn’t be more disappointed with my lack of progress on this front. I am no closer to the goal of starting a family than I was when I was 14 and had my first “legitimate” girlfriend. People talk about lost decades in economic terms, ha. I’ve basically gone though 21 years of non-progress.
My mind is constantly dogged by the fact that when my father was my age I was already 5 years-old and had two siblings with a fourth on the way. My three closest male family members whom I looked up to all my life, my three cousins on my mom’s side, all got married in about the same year – over ten years ago – and have put together their own wonderful little picture-perfect families (along with their seemingly perfect and stable careers which plays no small part in that endeavor). Four of my six siblings are now married and have children. Heck, my baby sister – whom I am so much older than I can vividly remember holding her in my arms the day she was born – my little baby sister has already grow up, gotten married, and is celebrating Christmas with her husband and one-year-old son this year.
When I was fourteen I was very innocently dating this amazing girl. Then, while she was on a family trip in the summer I made the stupid decision to go hang out with some “cool older college kids” at their apartment by the mall, was subsequently raped, and in my shame and guilt over that trauma I dumped this wonderful girl because I didn’t feel worthy to be her boyfriend anymore.
Thanks to social media we are still loosely in touch to this day. I am constantly confronted with the kind of amazing woman she has become, the kind of beautiful family she has created, and the kind of life she has built for herself. Then I think about the kind of women I’ve dated, my failure to start a family, and the kind of life I have cobbled together for myself. I can’t help but feel like the closest I ever came to that picture-perfect life I always wanted was 21 years ago and it has all been downhill ever since.
Of course, if I wanted a wife and family, a really helpful thing would probably be to have some kind of stable and fruitful career. But I can’t even seem to get that right. Here I am at 35 embarking on an entirely new career, starting at the bottom, and so jaded and exhausted by my numerous other failures at successfully starting a “career” (instead just drifting from one “job” to another) that I can’t even say with confidence that this is it, this is what I’ll be doing for foreseeable future – time to settle down and start a family.
My enthusiasm has always been my undoing. Not in and of itself, but the fact that it seems to know no bounds. I get excited about so many things, I’ve struggled all my life to focus my interest or time into just one thing that I could get good at and reap some dividends from. Ever since I was about five years old I had figured out the most honest (and clever) answer to that silly question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
My answer? Everything. Everything accept a policeman and army man because that could get me killed. Little did I know then that I would turn out to be such a manic nutcase when it came to pursuing my interests, passions, and dreams, that military service would also find its way into the mix.
I’ve been all over the map: I’ve worked in retail and restaurants. I’ve sold clothes, housewares, wine, perfume and cosmetics, internet ads for Angie’s List, and cutlery door-to-door. I was a secretary and an accounts payable clerk. I have military service under my belt which included training as a Chinese linguist and an electronics, cryptographic, and communications systems maintainer. I’ve worked as a web developer, marketing consultant, I’ve owned an operated a newspaper, worked on a cruise ship, and spent a significant amount of time teaching kids in the classroom.
The best paying job I ever had was something called a “broadcast coordinator” which involved me scheduling, tagging, and distributing radio and television commercials. Back in 1999 that job paid $36,000 a year with full benefits – to a kid who wasn’t even twenty and had no college degree. Taking inflation into account, that is just over $51,000 in earnings. Not only have I never come close to those kind of earnings since (despite a college degree and over decade and a half of additional “work and life experience”), I can’t help but wonder how far I could have gotten by now if I had just stuck with that company and worked my way up the promotion ladder.
Instead, I buckled under family pressure and chose to “drop out” of the workforce and sell my car in order to go to college – an expensive, private liberal arts college. To this day, not only am I still paying for my choice to take the college path (partly because it took me almost 10 years and several restarts just to figure out which path I was on and how to get to the end of the road), but I am now blessed with an undergraduate degree that is completely worthless when it comes to getting an entry level job doing anything useful in today’s economy. And somehow, despite spending almost ten years in and out of college, I managed to graduate without acquiring the two most important assets one can get in college: valuable, practical hands-on internship experiences and a network of driven, like-minded friends and colleagues.
In the past (and present) I have aspired to – and would still be super stoked to – be a professional performer, SCUBA diving instructor, journalist, political activist, attorney, or just run-of-the-mill serial entrepreneur. I spent a year trying to get an entry-level job with several advertising agencies only to learn that I needed to either spend another two years and $30,000 in post-graduate school or travel back in time and attend one of the specific colleges were these companies I wanted to work for were recruiting all their interns and entry-level workers.
My thoughts are constantly hijacked with ideas of social benefit enterprises in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors I would love to launch and run if only I had the skill set, knew the right people, or had the financial capital to get off the ground.
This time last year I was investing all of my time and discretionary money into a business enterprise that had a very promising market and real chance for success. I even had several pivot strategies in mind if the primary business model didn’t work out. But I eventually hit a wall when I realized I couldn’t pull it off without a team of at least two or three additional partners and I didn’t know a soul or have the networks to find someone was interested or capable of joining me.
And that brings me to the third thing that has really dogged me all of my life and probably has contributed significantly to my failures to find a wife and start a family or to launch a stable career: My failure to build a network.
Searching for my tribe
The one thing I have observed that almost everyone who has gotten anywhere close to getting where they want to in life has in common is that they have plugged themselves into a network of friends, colleagues, or associates that helped them get there. We humans are quite the social species, so it is no wonder that almost all of the paths to achieving most of the things we aspire to involve networks.
Whether it be connections from college through classmates and clubs, professional connections built up over the years, a close knit group of friends with similar hobbies and interests, or a family that one has joined based on similar values (like a church family), these networks seem to be the common thread in everyone’s success. Every time I investigate how someone whose achievements I admire – professionally, socially, or personally – got to where they are, there are always a variety of contributing factors to that success plus one common thread: “Well, I knew this guy (or gal) who…”
Now, I’m not complaining simply about the fact that after 35 years on this earth I have failed to build up or plug into a network of friends and colleagues that can support me and help me get where I want to go. Many people find themselves completely starting over from scratch all the time and are able to start from scratch and pull off whatever it is they are trying to achieve masterfully after building up a network around themselves.
No, my main failure isn’t just that I’ve either failed to get plugged in almost everywhere I’ve gone or have foolishly burned the few bridges that through some quirk of fate I found myself with. My main failure is that after 35 years, I still haven’t figured out how to start from scratch and build a network, find a tribe, and get plugged into a social circle. Not only have I ruined or failed to integrate into all the “legacy” networks that I was born into or happenstance placed me into, I never developed the ability to piece together a social circle from scratch on my own. The few times I have briefly felt like I “belonged” it was either a complete fluke that I had no idea how to replicate or I was being insanely dishonest and misrepresenting myself in order to fit in – a facade, I’ve never been able to keep up for very long.
Much of the time I find myself sitting in my home, by myself, feeling intensely lonely. During these times I think longingly and nostalgically about the people in my life with whom I have drawn close. On the one hand, I am blessed to have had numerous intensely wonderful close friendships with so many people. But, for one reason or another I find myself separated from those relationships by extreme distances, lack of money or time to get together, and lives that are now on such completely different paths or in such completely different seasons there are basically no natural points of intersection.
And that brings up another key part of my problem with building networks. I keep finding myself in situations where a social network is right there in front of me, but I’ve struggled to plug myself into the group. Instead of divesting my energy into medium-strength friendships and bonds with a large number of people with whom I find myself in common cause, I have always awkwardly found myself pouring all my energy into one extra-strength friendship or bond and having no time or energy left for anyone else. Or, I would guess what is more likely the case is that I try to build bonds with everyone in the group, fail miserably, and am only able to connect with one person whom I pour all of my energy into.
So, rather than what I assume more people’s lives are like: a long history of loose attachments and acquaintances to a large number of people, my life has turned into a long history of no attachments to anyone highlighted by a few extremely strong attachments to random individuals who couldn’t be further removed from my life or life-situations to ever do anything more than offer the occasional moral support through a text or phone call.
And if all of this talk about relationships as social assets is coming off as rather cold and unfeeling to you, then you are certainly onto what is likely the root of my problem relating to people. I over think everything. Whether it be the dynamic of a friendship between myself and someone else, or the common interest that could bind us together if I could just shut up or turn my brain off over analyzing it. Something about the way my brain works – and my inability to temper, modify, or just plain shut down the way I naturally think – has always posed a huge barrier to my ability to form bonds with other people. I have already spoken at length on that previously though.
And that brings me to my final point of failure and probably the biggest missed opportunity in my life for forming a social network: The two things that people are never supposed to talk about and the two things that people tend to bond and find their tribe through: politics and religion.
That’s me in the corner
In the realms of politics and religion, I have managed to paint myself into such a corner that it is nearly impossible for me to find common cause with anyone these days. Depending on your perspective, I am either the most liberal Republican you’ll ever meet or the most conservative Democrat. I’m too much of a socialist to be a libertarian, and I’m too much of a libertarian to be a socialist. Either way, I’m not in your camp and I’m probably “the enemy.”
In regards to religion, again, depending on your perspective, I am probably the most religious atheist you’ll ever meet or the most secular Christian you’ll ever meet. Either way, I’m an infidel and don’t belong in your tribe.
And although my inability to find common cause with anyone in politics is extremely annoying to me – politics is probably one of my most intense interests in this world – what is most painful is my inability to find common cause with anyone in religion. And now that I have recently moved to Dallas, Texas – and on today in particular – that painful schism couldn’t be more obvious.
I was raised in the buckle of the Bible belt. My father was an Evangelical pastor. I attended a private Christian high school and for a year, a private Christian college. More than half the books I own are about Christian faith, theology, and values. My history, my cultural DNA is saturated with Christian values and beliefs. I have been perfectly groomed and would love nothing more than to be an active, ardent faithful, church-going member of the Christian community. And yet, I find myself more out the outside looking in at this stage in my life than ever before.
When it comes to finding like-minded friends, or even more difficult, a mate, many of the people I know, many of the example couples, and much of the advice I receive revolves around the importance of having common faith and being an active part of a faith-based community. However, I’ve struggled all my life with being my genuine self and actively and sincerely participating in such a community – even though I have wanted nothing more.
It is extremely difficult for me to find friends, much less, a life partner who shares my nuanced and overly thought out religious beliefs and values. I am the kind of person who wants to go on mission trips and focus his life on ministering to other people’s physical and spiritual needs. The type of women who tend to share those values with a similar amount of passion as I feel are generally extremely devout in their religious identity, often Christians, regular church-goers, and very active in their faith-based community. One look at me and my seemingly “outsider status” is all it takes for those women to have zero interest in a guy like me.
On the other hand, there is the kind of woman I often meet who shares my political social liberal values. But to her, the idea of devoting a significant portion of her life to attending church services, getting involved with religious institutions, and contemplating theology is such a turn off she can’t get away from me fast enough.
And don’t even get me started on the inbetweeners: those who strongly embrace spiritualism but not religion and find common cause with my political social liberal values. Those type of people tend to also be among the least skeptical most intellectual wishy-washy I encounter. Great, you place stock in astrology, herbalism, meaningless spiritual-platitudism, the naturalist fallacy, and all manner of pseudoscientific BS. No thanks.
Is it too much to ask for someone who is extremely rational, skeptical, scientific-minded, and yet also has a rich cultural history in religious thought and theology that has led them to appreciate and want to pursue it with the same enthusiasm I do? Probably.
So where do I stand on religion and Christianity that makes it so difficult for me to find compatible friends or a compatible mate in this area?
Well, as a result of the rich Christian theological background I enjoyed growing up, I have come to find a profound and deep respect for the value of faith-based communities. I long to belong to such a community and for it to be a meaningful part of my life. The closest I ever came to feeling comfortable in such a community, however, was when I lived in California and attended Grace Bible Church of Hollister. I honestly don’t know what it was about that particular church – or whether or not I would still fit in there like I felt I did at the time – but that was the closest I have ever come to feeling like I was in a place I belonged and didn’t have to put on an act.
Theologically, I believe the basic tenants of the Christian faith: That mankind is a broken and fallen species, we are sinners and none are without blemish. In order to enjoy the fullness of God’s plan for our lives requires a type of super-natural intervention – the grace to forgive us of our sins and pay our debts. We are fallen creatures in constant need of grace, a gift that God has provided for us and we have not earned, and it is only through that grace that we can fully move forward in life and reach our full potential and begin to have the peace of heart and mind that comes from having a relationship with our benevolent creator.
So far, this fits pretty squarely with the bedrock that is Christian soteriology (path to salvation). To my surprise, however, I have come to learn that this idea of man’s fallen state, his inability to have works-based salvation, and the need for supernatural grace to forgive him of his trespasses so that he can have a relationship with an all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and personal God is a common thread that runs through many religions and spiritual practices in one form or another. Once, I was discussing soteriology with a very close Muslim friend of mine, and she told me that she held a point-for-point identical belief and that is what “true Islam” teaches. The only difference between the religions – and many religions – seemed to come out in the details and beliefs about historical myths and legends.
Now, had I believed everything that I was taught growing up in a Christian bubble, I would still think that the one thing that separates Christianity from all other world religions is that Christians believe in a personal God and subscribe to a faith-centered, non-works based soteriology. However, I have since learned first-hand that this is not the case at all, and just as many other religions on the outside of Christianity see its devotion to moralism, legalism, and the pursuit of piety and righteousness (even as it is prescribed in Romans 6) as making Christianity a works-based religion. And so also Christians seem to have either mistakenly or intentionally framed non-Christian faiths as being fundamentally works-based and devoid of a personal loving creator.
And that is not to say that many practitioners of all faiths approach salvation as a works-based project. In my experience, Christianity is full of people who overemphasize works and piety and draw their value from such. But the fundamental core of Christianity, and I have come to discover many non-Christian beliefs is that of a universe ruled over by a benevolent creator who wants to have a personal relationship with us and imbue our lives with meaning while helping us realize our full potential in life that can only come about when we accept his offer of grace and forgiveness for our transgressions.
And so I find myself falling somewhat into the theological camps of Pluralism, Universalism, or my personal favorite – Omnism. This is already enough to get you rejected by most faith-based communities or devout religious purists. But that is just on the details that religions start to disagree and where I find myself falling quite drastically out of the Christian camp. To make matters worst, I have discovered that I am also a pretty ardent Diest. In a nutshell, a Deist is strongly skeptical of the idea of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge and tends to reject religious dogma in favor of science and reason to arrive at similar conclusions of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator. Famous Deists you may have heard of include Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, George Washington, and Mark Twain. So I guess if I was born a few centuries earlier I would be in better company.
For starters, I don’t accept for a moment that the Christian Bible is the inerrant word of God. That right there pretty much bars me from ever becoming a member of just about every church I’ve ever heard of and, in the minds of most Christian girls I ever meet or would want to date, makes me a blasphemous apostate that they would never accept, least of all their family.
But, I’ve given this a lot of thought and if I am to believe in an all powerful, all good, never changing, all just God that Christianity and the church would have me believe in, then many of the teachings of the Bible simply don’t square with that belief. Besides the fact that the Bible is full of numerous examples of clerical errors and historical inaccuracies, my general thought is that much of it is also full of wrong-headed human-inspired (rather than God-inspired) nonsense ideas that don’t fit with the overarching meta-narrative of the Christian God or the God I believe in.
I have begun to compile some of these problematic passages here, but if you don’t have time to read through them all (which would also probably require an in depth discussion), let me just give you the highlights:
- The God of the Christian Bible encourages and blesses genocide and war crimes such as killing innocent children and kidnapping women to become forced brides (Numbers 31:13-18, 1 Samuel 15:1-3, Deuteronomy 2:32-36, Ezekiel 9:3-7, Joshua 6:20-21, Judges 21).
- The God of the Christian Bible prohibits the freedom of religion and calls for infidels and apostates to be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:1-15).
- The God of the Christian Bible promotes slavery and the devaluation of human life to that of property that can be bought, sold, exchanged, and contracted into ownership for life (Exodus 21:2-6, Exodus 21:20-21, Leviticus 25:44-46).
- The God of the Christian Bible discriminates against the handicapped ascribing lower value and less spiritual worthiness to them (Leviticus 21:16-23).
- The God of the Christian Bible encourages blatant misogyny equating women with property, ascribing their only redeeming value to their act of childbearing, devaluing a woman’s ability to give sexual consent and ascribing her sexual agency to whatever man happens to own her, and devaluing a woman’s ability to speak or think on her own, clearly indicating that women are less valuable than men (Genesis 3:16, Exodus 20:17, Exodus 21:7-11, Deuteronomy 22:28-29, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Leviticus 15:19-31, Leviticus 12, Numbers 30).
- The God of the Christian Bible even condones rape, indicating it is less of a sin than consensual sex outside of marriage, and even claiming to intentionally cause women to be raped as a punishment for the transgressions or lack of belief by the men who control them (Leviticus 19:20-22, 2 Samuel 12:11, Zechariah 14:1-2).
I could go on…
What is interesting to me, is that when these kind of troubling passages are brought up, Christians who want to defend the inerrancy of the Bible at all costs will contort themselves into all manner of theological and irrational knots trying to explain away or defend these positions. Allow me to address some of these arguments:
Covenant & Dispensational Theology
These two schools of thought are basically two sides to the same coin. The general idea is that after Jesus and the New Testament, much of the teaching of the old testament were “put in their place” or abolished outright. Or the ideas is that all of the Old Testament law was abolished unless it is reinforced in the New Testament.
One of the favorite go to passages for this is Acts 10 when the Apostle Peter has a vision of forbidden animals and the Lord commands him to eat them. Other passages are referred to such as 1 Corinthians 8 and eating meat sacrificed to idols.
For starters, Peter’s Vision in the book of Acts is in the context of whether or not non-Jews were part of God’s plan for his Kingdom – whether or not Gentiles could become Christians. One can certainly extrapolate that this means God is now rewriting the rules and establishing a new convent with Christians that is different than the ones he established with Abraham. But also, most of these go to passages are God specifically lifting dietary restrictions. I have found no where in the New Testament does God outright “correct his record” on slavery, genocide, misogyny, etc. So, if he really meant to do all that, he sure picked a funny and obscure way to do it.
But another thing that Christianity teaches is that God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 40:8, James 1:17, Hebrews 6:18, and I could go on and on – there are at least 80 or more of these passages). God is looked to as being an independent moral compass for humanity that can be relied upon in all situations. Regardless of the kind of covenant God has with whomever his chosen people are, one thing we would expect, and as Christians are taught, is that he be an immutable source for moral judgement.
What does it say about God’s morals if he condoned and blessed under any circumstances or covenant genocide, slavery, misogyny, and rape. What does it say about God that under any circumstances he would set up a system that devalues women, the handicapped, children, and human life. What does it say about a God that under any circumstances would establish a law that “punishes” rape by allowing rapists to pay off their victim’s fathers thereby forcing their victims to become their wives with no say in the matter under the law – God’s law (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
Furthermore, in order to justify Covenant and Dispensational Theology one really has to tie themselves in knots trying to explain away when Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” in Matthew 5:17. If the Old Testament law was so backwards and so contrary to what we have come to accept in modern times as pretty clear standards for morality and valuing of human life, then why is Jesus not only silent on explicitly condemning it, but the only time he mentions it, it is in reverence to its perfection and his fulfillment of what it represents about God and how God views humanity?
Another argument I often hear – and one I myself often espouse when calling for a more gentile critique of the Bible – is that of considering the historical context. One argument might go something like this: “The Apostle Paul’s misogynistic views on women were extremely progressive in his day and he couldn’t have gotten away with pushing the cultural boundaries even further, but he started the ball rolling in a direction that has led us to where we are today in recognizing equality among the sexes. After all, despite him saying multiple times that women should be silent in church, he also placed women in leadership positions and praised them equally with men which none of his contemporaries were doing.”
Then, the passages that people often refer to as examples of why the Bible actually teaches gender equality are such ridiculous stretches I can barely take them seriously. In light of the Bible’s explicit subjugation of women and numerous examples of treating them as property, seen-but-not-heard lowly only-good-for-childbearing second class humans, the examples given are often ones of women as props and tolkens. It strains credulity. It is kind of a sad and disgusting argument to be honest.
This same historical context argument is given to justify much of the strange laws of the Old Testament that Christians have chosen to ignore or not follow anymore. “It made sense because of limited technology or medicine to do those things, but in modern times we don’t need those kind of prohibitions,” is an argument I often hear.
Here’s what gets me about this whole historical context argument – as well as the Covenant and Dispensational Theology arguments. They require modern thinkers to go through the Bible and, based on modern ideas of morality heavily influenced by modern secular political and moral philosophy, pick and choose what parts of the Bible are “good” and eternal and therefore worth keeping, and what parts are ancient “historical context” relics that can be ignored or discarded. There is no clear independent system of thought or theology I have discovered to date that successfully and once and for all weeds out the good parts of the Bible from the bad parts that wasn’t specifically created and then modified and formulated with loopholes and caveats in order to satisfy the contemporary thoughts of the day.
Throughout the last 2000 years, Christians have adjusted and updated their theology in order to interpret the Bible in such a way as to fit with the generally accepted moral principals of the times. Am I to believe that only just recently, now that we have figured out slavery is horrible, genocide is wrong, women have agency and all human life regardless of race, religion, gender, and ability has equal value we finally are applying the proper theology to the Bible that allows us to ignore those uncomfortable passages that seem to condone such things?
In the short history of the United States, Christians have preached that all men are created equal but have found themselves condoning slavery then condemning it, practicing racism then shunning it, fighting women’s suffrage then championing it. There are still fringe Christians who, through some kind of fundamental literal Biblical theology still justify racism and misogyny, not to mention the ever shrinking mainstream of Christians who hold bigoted attitudes towards people of different religions, sexual orientation, or gender identity. After 2000 years, you’d think that Christians would have settled their ideas about these values if God and his perfect immutable word was really the final independent moral compass that Christians preach our society is in such desperate need of.
And even if that is true, let’s just take a step back for a moment and consider what is missing from the Old Testament law that probably should be there. For example, the Bible already has some very disturbing double-standards about rape, but it never once specifically addresses a woman’s right to give or withhold sexual consent – especially in the confines of marriage. Rape is treated as a crime against the man whose property that woman is, and not against the woman herself (otherwise it would be treated the same in all situations instead of creating loopholes and caveats for it).
Here’s an example that aught to hit pretty close to home for Christians today: The same God that Christians tell me values all human life, even the life of an unborn child (as loosely evidenced by Exodus 21:22), never went as far as to very simply and straightforwardly prohibit abortion in the entire Old Testament law and yet saw it fit to prohibit wearing clothing made of mixed fabrics.
If abortion was not even possible back then I could see that being an easy oversight. Except we know that there is evidence that women were conducting abortions as far back as 5000 B.C. so the idea that it wasn’t socially relevant when the Old Testament law was passed down simply doesn’t hold any water. It was a known practice of the time. If God is really so against abortion, then it stands to reason he would have explicitly prohibited it. Especially considering all of the other things he explicitly prohibited (such as eating shellfish!). So, either the Christian God isn’t really against a woman’s right to choose as many Christians would have us believe, or he doesn’t really value the life or unborn children as much as other human beings, or the Bible has somehow left out key passages that reveal God’s perfect nature, or it is just possible that the Bible isn’t the complete and perfect Word of God as Christians want us to all believe. Something fishy is going on.
The larger point here is that if you take a reasonable, intellectual, and objective look at the Bible and try to understand what the big picture message it is trying to tell us about who God is, suddenly the whole thing starts to either contradict itself or simply paint a pretty gross picture of an evil and inconsistent God. And I don’t mean wrathful, perfect and just god – I mean an evil God. Some of the things God did, condoned, or blessed in the Bible are just straight up evil- whether he is God or not.
On the other hand, if you were to apply logic and reason, two human faculties that I am to understand are gifts to us from God (some going as far as to say a large part of what it means to be formed in the image of God in the first place), to the Bible, you can start to pull out deeper truths from the meta-narrative of the Bible which are further supported by other other religious texts and secular humanist philosophy, while simultaneously rejecting the clearly poorly thought out, human-inspired, ill informed historical relic portions of the Bible that don’t reveal deeper truths about God and the universe but rather serve as a great study into how and why civil society evolved the way it did and found acceptable, possibly even necessary, certain ideas and practices that in modern times we find abhorrent and evil. Yes, that was all one sentence.
Or what about the general Christian and Biblical reverence to the concept of faith? The go-to Christian definition of faith is “hope in things not seen.” I just have one problem with that idea. Under that definition, belief in anything is possible! I have never seen a leprechaun or a unicorn or fairie or Santa Clause but if I believe in these things despite no evidence, Christians call that faith.
Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 17:20, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
For starters, I’ve never seen or heard any credible reports of someone causing something as spectacular as moving mountains, so Jesus must have a pretty dim view of our capacity to have faith. And yet, I am well aware of people of all religions having the deepest and most profound faith in their beliefs, even dying for that faith. What’s going on here? Has everyone with mustard-seed sized faith (or greater) simply placed it in the wrong thing?
I prefer Bill Maher’s definition of faith: “The purposeful suspension of critical thinking.” Under this definition things start to make a lot more sense. You can see why a bunch of Christians could be so easily led to believe by a known con-artist that an angel had revealed to him special knowledge of Jesus coming to America and hiding golden plates that completely rewrite Christian theology. You can see why so many thousands of seemingly intelligent and successful people can be conned into an insane ideology such as Scientology. You can see why billions of people cling vigorously to the religion that they were born into, arranging their entire lives around that religion and even being willing to die for it – despite the fact that these religions, on more than one detail, seem to contradict and exclude each other as being false and clever deceptions of “the enemy.”
If Christians value truth, certainly they can come to realize that faith isn’t the ally of truth, it is the enemy of truth. Through faith alone belief in any truth is relevant and valid. And yet, when I am challenged by difficult passages in the Bible, or my understanding of Christian theology, the final argument that religious authorities seem to give me always comes down to, “Well, you just have to have faith in God’s sovereignty in this matter.” What kind of argument is that? It is a no argument at all. It is a blank check to believe whatever kind of broken dogma a religious authority is feeding me. And none of the religious authorities can seem to agree with one another, so where does that leave me? No where, that’s where.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the chasm that lies between myself and most religious people. And yet, I subscribe to the core tenants of Christian soteriology, I identify very closely with many aspects of Chrsitian culture and values, and I highly value the importance of belonging to a church or a like-minded, “faith-based” group of believers. The irony of the contradictions and the completely lonely place this leaves me is certainly not lost on me. I find myself most drawn towards forming friendships and intimate relationships with people who are part of this group. But I find myself unable to fully drink the Kool-aid and bury myself part and parcel in “Christiandom” and all the wonky philosophy and spiritual hokey that seems to be part of it.
And so, I remain a man with no tribe constantly wanting to join and trying to join a tribe that will never have him as a member. No one wants me as a member of their tribe. It is a lonely world for the critical thinking deist.
And if you read through all of this – through the seemingly illogical, disjointed ramblings that have brought you from my opening sentence to here, 7,000 words later – then you are just beginning to understand why it is I am having so much trouble achieving what I want in life.
I over think things. I over analyze things. I paint myself into intellectual corners that either no one can understand or no one wants to dabble in with me because it stands so far apart from where they are coming from. I can’t seem to “sell-out” to a single idea or passion long enough to get the most out of it, whether it be in my academic pursuits, the marketable skills I try to develop, or just the company I keep. And I seem to over “sell-out” to philosophical thought experiments that no one either cares about or agrees with me on.
I’m not entirely sure how much longer I can keep this up. That probably sounds hopeless and suicidal, so let me at least clarify: I am eternally hopeful. Just less hopeful than I have ever been before. I am eternally happy to be alive and want life to go on forever. I am pretty sure I could even take on the burden of a lot more suffering and pain in my life and still have the will to soldier on. I am just frustrated that, despite all these years of effort, I can’t seem to figure out how to get one step closer to achieving or having a road map to find my way towards the simple things I want in life: a wife, a family, a career, and the ability to pour all the benevolence, the passion, and the love that I have for my fellow human beings into the world in a productive way that makes a small dent in things, makes the world a slightly better place, and leaves this planet slightly better than how I found it.
I used to think I had a road map. I used to think I knew what I was doing. I used to think I knew how I was going to do good on this earth. I used to think I had some semblance of a plan to achieve some of my more modest goals. Now, I couldn’t have less of a clue. I have no idea what I’m doing anymore, why I’m doing it, and what the point is. I am hopeful, and I’m still driving, but I am completely confused, turned around, and utterly lost.