I’ve been reading an awesome book lately by Rick Hanson called Buddha’s Brain – The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness. Hanson is neuropsychologist, author, speaker and meditation teacher. His book isn’t about Buddhism as much as the intersection of psychology, brain science and contemplative practices. I discovered him on my friend Scott’s blog in the article I referred to above.
I’m massively interested in brain science, because it gives concrete evidence and thus strategies for dealing with the nebulous emotional things of life. This has added to the foundation of CBT techniques I’ve been learning and practicing. Coming to understand the science of the brain and the inner universe has had as large an impact on my thinking as coming to understand the science of the physical world and the larger universe. Bill Bryson has a great book called, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, if that’s something you’re interested in exploring.
I’ve spent over half of my life exploring christianity. I ’found god’ at 24, married in to it, and it continues to impact me, though not always in positive ways. Although there are parts of it I love, there are also other parts that have stripped me of my ability to appreciate it overall.
These past years, I’ve deconstructed my belief system and in doing so, have become a dissenter within the circle I once belonged. Sadly, in such circles, alternate views have little place. If you’ve ever stepped outside or challenged the belief system or code of conduct of a religious community, you’ll know what I mean. It usually involves at least a questioning of your character and faith, and often far more.
As I’ve dissembled the thinking I once accepted, some big issues have come up. This is my philosophical shortlist, ignoring the other practical and relational impacts.
– If there’s a benevolent god, interested and acting on my behalf in the minutiae of my daily life – why then is that god seemingly absent in the daily lives of people in far more extreme circumstance?
– Would an all-knowing benevolent god insist we belong to an exclusive ’club’ of understanding or would that god take in consideration our differing cultural and religious upbringings and sexual preferences?
– Is truth really a narrow path or is it an encompassing one with room for the many positive contributions from other avenues of thought?
– How, given the vast scientific evidence for the evolution of the world and it’s species, can religion blind itself to such findings?
But perhaps most notably for me, is the question of how religion can claim to understand the complexities and mysteries of eternal life, when we can’t even comprehend the complexities and mysteries of this physical life. At least not yet.
A few years ago, I was taken with the book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ which was later made into a movie. The movie was dismissed as a chick flick, a romantic comedy. At the best of times, I can barely endure chick flicks, but Elizabeth Gilbert’s story is more than that. It’s a memoir, a personal recount of her journey in, an awakening of sorts.
Gilbert traveled a path of personal healing. faith and self discovery that began in Italy, progressed to India and concluded in Bali. Each of those parts of her life contributed to her evolving, broadening spiritual mosaic. I imagine her journey in continues still.
The idea of a spiritual mosaic is new to me and in some ways makes me a little uneasy. It’s not the well-traveled road I’m familiar with, but I’m liking what I’m learning. I’m incorporating into my daily routine meditation, mindfulness and visualization – because they literally change the physiology and landscape of the brain toward peace, love and self-mastery. Whether they answer the existential question of what lies beyond, is still, well, a question.
I have no idea what lies beyond this life. Is it jeweled streets? Is it the music of string theory? Is it one-ness with the universe? Is it nothing ? I don’t know. And neither does anyone else, no matter what authority they claim it upon. But I do know it’s within my power to live and love well.
My youngest son asked me anxiously the other day, ‘Mom are you still a Christian?’ And honestly, I’m not sure I am, except by my own definition. Just as I’m an art student, a student of philosophy, religious studies, psychology, literature and science – by my own definition.
Is that enough? Is a rose by any other name still as sweet?
I’m beginning to think so.
- The Real World (scott-williams.ca)
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5 thoughts on “Are You Still A Christian?”
I don’t believe God’s stamp of approval exists on the responses you have gotten from those who judged you for questioning him and Christianity. I also believe the responses you have gotten from Christians regarding your exploration stem from their need to control or even for validation of their own beliefs. I have bumped into this with two of my maturing children who I raised in a Bible-believing home. They are questioning God, his existence, the Bible… I am choosing to welcome their questions, appreciate their journey, admit I don’t have all the answers, and accept that their questions are actually really good and intriguing. It’s not always easy but I know it is the wisest stance I can take as their mom. I want a relationship with my children for the long haul not to create a chasm between us because we have different beliefs. Although not the entire point of your post, thank you for the reminder to love my children not judge them.
Great post. I can relate to your quest for spiritual certainty and identity.
As a child, I was raised in a non-practicing Catholic household. I attended a co-educational convent (Catholic) primary school until I was 12 years old. The school was run by Josephite nuns and we had regular religious instruction. My family didn’t attend church regularly but we did go to the children’s mass at Christmas.
As a teenager I struggled with my sexuality and gender identity. I was desperately lonely and came close to ending my life many times. The only thing that kept me alive and sane was Wednesday morning (Catholic) mass. I used to go and knew that I had someone I could talk to who wouldn’t judge me. I was secure and certain in my faith.
Then I transitioned (I am transgender) to live as a man during my late teens. This was about the same time as I first went to university. I started to read more about the Catholic church’s homophobic and transphobic teachings so in response, I walked away from the church I had been raised in.
For the next 12-13 years I tried out the Methodist church though the Metropolitan Community Church, Uniting Church, Buddhism, Taoism, Shamanism and Wicca. I dabbled for a while in atheism and started to learn more about Hinduism. While they were all magical experiences for me, none ever felt fully right. The Christian churches had such a different way of relating to God and Jesus (there seemed to be more a focus on Jesus than on God). The Eastern religions’ assertion that “nothing exists” didn’t fit with my internal need to live for today (I can’t explain it). And Shamanism, Wicca and Hinduism felt a little strange through their following of multiple deities who are actually one.
At 33 years old (or young, depending on your perspective), I found myself making contact with my local Catholic priest and being welcomed into his parish. Suddenly I was home again. I felt a spiritual peace I hadn’t felt in decades. I discovered that there is a difference between the institution and my faith. And that, while I despise the homophobia and transphobia expressed by the institution and leaders of the Catholic church, I feel comfortable in the spiritual practices that give rise to my faith.
Isn’t it funny how all our journeys are so different. We all have our own unique individual spiritual needs, which will all be met in different ways. People sometimes judge me for my spiritual journey because I dared to practice Wicca and Shamanism. Others are fascinated by my past as a Buddhist and Toaist (I was more a Taoist than Buddhist). But what I’ve learned is that there’s no right or wrong religious practice: there’s only practices that feel like better matches for each of our life situations and experiences.
I wish you good fortune with your quest 🙂
[Sorry for the long comment]
A great post – thanks!
This is a great post! I no longer consider myself a “christian’, as it seems this definition has changed over the years, having been high jacked by extremist zealots, where the beauty of thinking outside the box is forfeited for close mindedness. It is an issue of control of the masses now and that control cannot be manifested in someone who chooses to use the brains that God has given all of us. If you’re a believer in such an entity’s existence.
I can relate to much of what is written here. I have no answers, but I certainly have many of those same questions. Bill Bryson is great. Adding the other books you mentioned to my to do list. Great post!