As you probably know, I moderate religion forums. I’ve been working with a large spirituality site called Beliefnet for going on seven years now. Most of the forums I work with are Christian, although I have moderated forums debating Judaism. To me, it’s a very interesting way to learn about people-not only to learn about their faiths, although that is a very large interest. One of the most fascinating things is watching how people interact with each other and behave when talking about things that are as highly-charged as religion is. I’ve seen and participated in some rather interesting meltdowns and support sessions. In fact, I came about this job because I was seriously struggling with my faith and I found a lot of help and friendship from many people there. If anyone tells you you can’t find real friends on the internet, they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve also met a lot of people who aren’t so friendly and learned some things that caused me a great deal of pain, but I guess that’s to be expected.
I joined Beliefnet in part to try to answer some of the doubts I was having after coming out of a relationship with a man who had some beliefs I simply couldn’t accept. Some of those beliefs were completely foreign to me, but some of them are beliefs I used to share to some extent but later found not to be true. I’ve shed some light on those beliefs and explored new ones, hopefully somewhat growing along the way.
Unfortunately, doubts are still my constant companions. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I learn or who I meet, there are always the lingering questions. What does God think about ‘topic X’? What should I believe about ‘topic Y’? Do I even have to have a belief about Y at all? How should I see or read the Bible? What if I don’t understand what I’m reading? What do I make of all of the conflicting things I hear, from outside the faith as well as within? What’s really important? How much of the Bible is true?
Apparently I’m not the only one dealing with these doubts. Here is a post from a friend of mine from the Christian-to-Christian Debate forum on Beliefnet:
I am not sure that Jesus said everything he has been credited with. I have been reading Genesis, Exodus and Numbers again and most of it still makes no sense to me. And please don’t tell me that if I had the Spirit in me, I would understand it! Whoever wrote this, I believe, put God’s name in places it should not be. Or else it is all made up. I have tried over the years to believe in the OT because I thought it necessary to be Christian. I just cannot believe this is the God I feel in my heart. If anyone can make it all fit together, I am happy for them, but I don’t believe God expects anyone to believe all this. There are some very good stories but all the killing ordered by God is nothing but rubbish.
Here’s my reply on the forum thread:
I’m so glad to read that I am not the only one who feels this way. My church has an OT passage as part of the order of service, but lately I have had a hard time understanding what is being said. I thought it was just me, since a lot of the time I can’t focus long enough to understand even the simplest things. There are not words enough to express how distressing and frustrating this is for me! However, I just don’t know what to make of so many things in the OT…ceremonial laws, why God hardened Pharoah’s heart, the destruction and death, etc. I just *don’t get it*. I keep hearing in my head the ‘if you had the spirit, you’d get it’ that you mention above, a throwback from before…but then I wonder why it is important for me to know this stuff?
Sorry to babble, but I’m glad to know I am not the only one who just says, ‘WTH???’ with some parts of the Bible.
I don’t really know a good ‘tie-in’ for this. Sometimes it’s just so frustrating to talk to other people about what you believe when you don’t know what it is! I’ve heard so many statements and cracks from atheists and agnostics about how all religion is evil because the God we believe in did some really awful things. I would normally have a good comeback for them, but I don’t really know what to say when even I can’t make sense of some of the ‘darker parts’. Most of the time I can tell myself that the stories could just be a statement of fact rather than a recommendation for the future-for instance, I don’t hear very many pastors singing the praises of slavery (anymore) or Levirate marriage. That would be quite an interesting sermon, wouldn’t it? I could also say that some things are instructions to the Jews about things that Jesus later spoke against-kosher laws, for example. He said that “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean'” (Matthew 15:10-12). That is all well and good for parts of the Old Testament, but that still does not explain why a God who claims to love us would do things like strike someone dead just for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling?
Also confusing is how there are so many conflicting teachings and doctrines…Calvinism, Pelagianism, etc. Some parts just feel wrong to me, like predestination-the idea that God chooses certain people to go to Heaven, as I understand it. But wouldn’t that also mean that God chooses certain people to go to Hell? That would be the other destination from Heaven, right? I don’t know. Then there’s the teaching that someone has to be a Christian in order to go to Heaven and avoid Hell, but then the fact that not everyone has even heard of Jesus; at least, not by that name. There’s the way that most of the world’s religions have similar teachings about how to treat people. There’s the fact that there are so many Christians who are nasty and judgmental and so many non-Christians or non-theists who live out everything Jesus taught, even if they don’t know or acknowledge it. The friends I mentioned above from Beliefnet who helped me through really rough times with my faith were mostly non-Christian and sometimes even anti-Christian, with a Luciferian or two thrown in there. Some Christians were great too, but others were kind of snotty. You’re not supposed to make the simplest and respectful joke about Jesus around some people, although I’m sure He has a sense of humor. Wouldn’t He have to, to deal with us? Look at the platypus. 🙂 There’s the way that so many Christians make such a huge deal about the gender of who a person sleeps with but doesn’t think twice about kicking someone when they’re already down. Most confusing of all, however, is the idea that the Bible is completely inerrant as written but also the idea that mostly the parts about faith and life are inerrant but the science stuff isn’t.
There are just so many things that don’t sit well, but how do I know that I’m not ‘making God in my own image’? I’ve been accused of that, along with ‘picking and choosing’, quite a bit. I’ve been so tempted to just toss it all out the window. I think the only thing that has kept me from doing that was Jesus Himself…I’ve seen Him working through people and things no one would think of, and it was unmistakable who was behind it. I can’t help but wonder if the same being or spirit that I call Jesus is present in other faiths or ideas, but called something else. Not much else about Him makes sense, but this seems to. However, I’ve heard numerous times that this is the wrong doctrine. Maybe the doctrines, which were written by people, are what’s wrong. Maybe it’s more about being in imitation of Christ than about what you know. Not that knowledge is bad; in fact, it is a very good thing. But I wonder if it’s really the only thing, or even a very important one.
I’ve been told that if a teaching or doctrine portrays God as anything other than a loving Father-type is false. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to get whatever you want, whenever you want it. This is another teaching I’ve heard that bothers me. My earthly father didn’t give me everything I wanted, and there was a good reason for it. Not everything I wanted was something I needed or was good for me. That has been my experience of Jesus too. I’ve had rough times and trials but they weren’t anything I didn’t eventually get through. That gives me hope, a lot more hope than knowing all the ‘right’ doctrines ever did.
If anyone has any ideas as to how to get through some of this confusion, they are more than welcome. However, I’ve found a tremendous amount of comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who sometimes feels like their head is a bowl of alphabet soup.
Speaking of soup…time for lunch!