Afraid of Becoming a Heretic

Growing up, I always wanted to have the right answer.  Most of it stemmed from the desire to be praised by adults, whether they be my mom, a teacher, or someone else in authority.  I was the kid that never raised my hand unless I was absolutely sure I was going to be correct.  Fortunately, I’ve mostly grown out of this.  In most situations, I’m not afraid to ask questions, even if there’s a chance that people will think I’m foolish.  I’m now able to recognize that asking questions is what brings me the knowledge I desire.

When I say I’ve mostly grown out of this (I can still be reserved in new environments), there is one crucial area in which I’m still tentative about asking questions: my spiritual life.  My first semester in Scriptures class left me with doubts aplenty.  I have less “right” answers than I’ve ever had before.  So much so, that I’m quite overwhelmed at my lack of certainty and feel stuck.  I wouldn’t outright admit to being afraid to ask spiritual questions, but I am.  After almost 35+ years of simply believing everything I’ve ever been taught about God and the Bible, it’s been extremely difficult to start thinking for myself.  I almost feel like I’m always one step away from heresy.  After all, no one ever wakes up and decides to become a heretic.  It just kind of happens when you voice your beliefs and others decide you’re wrong and brand you as such.  And then burn you at the stake.

It is this fear (of being a heretic, not being burned at the stake) that has paralyzed me in my thought process.  I am not sure where to turn.  Most Christians would tell me to just read the Bible and let the Holy Spirit guide me.  The problem is that is what I’ve done my entire life and I think I need something different (I feel heretical even writing this – see?  I told you).  I need the words of someone who has been where I am to encourage me on my journey and tell me to revel in it.  To tell me that it’s ok to not know what you believe.  To help open my eyes to new ways of thinking.  To encourage me to challenge everything I’ve been taught.  To tell me that my questions don’t make me a heretic.

To get out of my current state of paralysis, I need to find these voices in my life.  Maybe I’ll start with this.

“The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.”– Peter Abelard

 

More Fear and Trembling Than I’m Comfortable With

It makes me sad that I started this blog to record my thoughts about working through my faith and that the reason I haven’t written anything lately is that I’m having somewhat of a crisis of faith and I’m kind of embarrassed about it.  I mean, of all people, I should not be having this crisis.  I grew up in church.  I was there every time the doors were open.  I knew all of the right answers.  If you named a Bible story, I probably could tell you that story from beginning to end.  I always took notes during sermons; my Bible margins were filled with writing.  I proudly showed off the fact that my Student Bible from 1995 started falling apart.  I was in heaven when I got my first NIV Study Bible because it had more study notes for me to read and learn.

And then I got to seminary where it was a whole new ball game.  For the most part, professors aren’t concerned with Sunday School answers.  They want you to reach past the easy answers and get deep into the text and read it like you’ve never read it before.  And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing this semester.  Ironically, this is the root of my crisis in Dr. Ngan’s Scriptures I class.  Anyone that has taken her class, will attest to the difficulty of the course.  Yes, there’s a lot of reading, but it’s more than that.  After 6 weeks in class, I know that the difficulty lies in its ability to stir up questions about some of the more difficult Bible passages as well as the ability to make you start questioning if certain stories actually happened.  I bet you weren’t expecting that last part.  Neither was I.

I was fine until we read Ancient Near East epics such as Gilgamesh and The Deluge.  When you compare biblical accounts of creation and the flood with these epics, you start noticing many similarities.  As in the essence of the story is the same, but with names changed.  That’s when I started questioning which came first.  Because if the Bible wasn’t written first, then that means that the stories in Genesis didn’t really happen.  And then the room starts spinning and I think that if Genesis isn’t true, then what’s to say any of the Bible is true?  And then I started questioning my entire life and purpose (not kidding).  I’ve been doing this for 6 weeks and my panic level just keeps growing.

The good(?) news is that many of Dr. Ngan’s students have gone through the same thing.  I spoke with one of her former students today and he said that some people drop the class because they can’t handle the deconstruction of everything they were taught in church. He also added that she doesn’t necessarily do anything to reconstruct a “correct” belief system, either.  The big-picture part of me can accept that because we all have to decide on our own beliefs, hence the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling.  But the terrified child within me just wants a Sunday School teacher (or seminary professor) to tell me what to believe.

So that’s where I am, fellow pilgrim.  I simultaneously want to continue and quit.  But continue is winning for now.  I’ll let you know if that changes.

If you’re intrigued by the epics that I mentioned above, leave me a message and I can get you those.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

More of a Wanderer Than I’ve Ever Been

It was during my intro to scriptures class that I started really questioning everything I believed.  I learned about epic stories such as Gilgamesh that predate any biblical writings but are very similar to Bible stories such as creation and Noah.  There was a moment of crisis when I came to the realization that those stories might have been the basis for the same stories we find in the Bible.  It was only natural for me to start questioning the Bible as a whole.  That was a rough semester for me, to put it mildly.  With my Scriptures 1 class this semester, I’m about to do it all over again except in greater depth. Continue reading

Theology From Old Bibles

Shortly before mom died, we had to sell her house in order to pay for her continuing medical and living expenses.  For that to happen, I needed to clean it out.  To say it was a daunting task would be an understatement.  You see, Mom was a hoarder.  I spent two days combing through 20-year-old church bulletins and grocery ads from 1998 trying to find important stuff like financial documents, pictures, and the like.  I wish I would have had about a month to go through everything because I know that we threw out a bunch of stuff that I would have liked to keep.  I did manage to find three of her Bibles and have recently gone through those reading her notes. Continue reading

Remembering and Regretting

It’s been about 18 months since mom died.  Last Christmas, I had just moved to Texas and was so busy getting everything in order that I didn’t really have time to stop and think about mom.  This year I’ve got nothing but time on my hands and it shows.  In the last couple of weeks, there have been minor crying spells here and there, but a few nights ago I had a major breakdown.

I was on the way to the mall and started to think about one Christmas in particular.  I don’t even remember when it was, but I remember what I got.  Money had been tight for mom for a long time, but she really wanted to give me something for Christmas.  I can remember my thoughts when I opened her present.  It was some kind of Christmas poem that she had photocopied and then put in a black and gold picture frame from the dollar store.  I remembered how ugly I thought it was.  I was kind of embarrassed that this was all she could afford.  I might have even been ashamed.  I politely smiled and thanked her for the gift, but when I got home, it got shoved to the corner or put in a drawer.  I’m pretty sure that over the years and throughout several moves, I eventually threw it away and forgot about it.

Until yesterday. Continue reading

Burlap Jesus

I’ve been a Christian for a long time.  Long enough to see items in Christian bookstores go through their cheesy phase.  Testamints, anyone?  Remember, it’s not just a mint, it’s a mint with a message.  I worked in a Christian bookstore in the mid-90s and one of the trends was to take t-shirt slogans and put a Christian spin on them.  Budweiser became Bloodwiser.  Gold’s Gym became The Lord’s Gym.  They were so prevalent and so horrible, they turned me off of Christian t-shirts forever.  Forever.  During my most recent stint in a Christian bookstore, I discovered they hadn’t gotten any better.  Now there’s one for sale that has the outline of Darth Vader and underneath it reads “I am not your father. God is your father.”  Nope. Continue reading

Why I’m a Libertarian and Why You Might Be One, Too

This is the second thing I’ve written since the election.  I’m still processing what Trump means to me and those around me.  Several times I sat down to write a reaction piece, but I just ended up with a jumbled mess.  I eventually decided to talk about my political views, which is quite rare.

I voted for Gary Johnson.  And no, it wasn’t a wasted vote as I’ve had many friends imply.  And no, I didn’t vote for him because I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Trump or Clinton.  I voted for him because I believe in the principles of the Libertarian party.  But until about 6 years ago, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing.

I grew up in a Republican household.  My mom voted straight Republican in every election and when I was old enough to vote, I did the same.  I had been drinking the Republican kool-aid for a very long time.  The only issue I really understood was abortion and because Republicans were always pro-life, I always voted Republican.  And because I had always been a Republican in a Republican household in a Republican state, I was very closed-minded to other viewpoints.    However, as the years went on, I began to see things in the Republican party that I didn’t agree with, mostly revolving around wars and big government.

Continue reading