My wife says I’m confusing. I think she’s right. We both grew inundated by the wiles Christian fundamentalism. We both saw firsthand how “in a conservative society, social stability and order were considered more important than freedom of expression…such notions…could be socially disruptive and endanger the community” (Armstrong, 34). Needless to say we both walked away with a disdainful distaste for the church and a heightened suspicion of organized religion and Christianity as a whole. My wife has retained a sense of theism and has developed into a kind of free-from Universalist, denouncing institutionalization, completely and unashamedly disengaged from any form of religious involvement (and she’s hot too!).
Myself? I’m something of an atheist. I like to think of myself, ala Altizer, as a “Christian Atheist” of sorts. This contradictory and counterintuitive (and surely heretical) retention of the Christian moniker perhaps speaks more of my sociology, having been raised entirely within the bounds of Western Christendom it’s undeniable that regardless of my religious rejections, Christianity is still a present lens through which I peer. It is indicative of my context with which I cannot help but identify with.
This is where both my wife’s and my own confusion sets in. I don’t believe in God but, I’ve been attending and have been somewhat actively involved with a church near where we live. Hell, I even delivered a sermon there recently (you can find it here). I should say, somewhat to my defense that it is certainly not the church of my youth. It is an extremely liberally progressive church in the UCC denomination and while Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris, would still probably refuse to stamp Atheist membership card, the fundamentalists of my past would surely think of this church as a cesspool of godless unbelievers, some maybe it balances out.
So my wife’s question, and probably yours as well at this point is “why?” Why would someone who does not affirm the idea of God still want to have any kind of involvement with a Christian community? Am I a theist in denial? Am I simply nostalgic for my churched past? Perhaps it’s an indication of the psychological crutch that seeks a sense of security within the sphere of religion as Bonheoffer has suggested. Perhaps I’m just another example of the ontological weakness that Freud professed was prevalent within the religious. It could be. I’m afraid I don’t have a satisfying answer, which is probably why it’s taken me almost four paragraphs to get to a fleeting point. I would like to think that it’s none of the above.
There is something within the core of the Judeo/Christian constructs that deeply resonates with me. The resonance may simply be the stirring of an apparition, the ghost of religion past but, there is a moral and ethical imperative in the teachings of Jesus that sings to me. It may turn out to be the song of a siren beckoning me to the rocks but, for no it is captivating. For me Jesus is a force to be reckoned with, not because of some creedal assertion of divinity but, because I think he encapsulates what means to be fully human. His is a space where “faith” and the world are no longer mutually exclusive, where the sacred and the profane cannot be conceived as independent, autonomous, or distinct, and where any faith that seeks to isolate or disentangled from one another is immediately a faith to be rejected. He represents the place where word and deed coalesce, where moral and ethical teachings hit ground and are given legs. “Ethics and love are a dangerous descent into the self” (Hamilton, 50), yet though “the Christian life, ethics, love is first a decision about the self,” it is more importantly “then a movement beyond the self into the world” (49).
“Love you neighbor as yourself” wasn’t simply a heartwarming catch phrase, he meant it. When he said to love your enemies, I don’t think he was bluffing. I don’t think he was composing something for easy Sunday school memorization or bumper sticker fodder. I think he was speaking of a radical inclusivity that cut across all social, political, and religious boundaries. Here “Faith in Jesus demands a response to a Word that is present in the life of every human hand and face” (Altizer, 123). As such, “the presence of Christ can be known only in the body of a broken and suffering humanity…wholly detached from the divine attributes of his traditional image” (135).This why I think Christianity has survived despite the innumerable atrocities committed on its behalf and in its name, at its most central there still resides something that aggressively embraces humanity in its entirety though perhaps nonsensically and when it is takes form and is genuinely and honestly practiced within community there is hardly anything more beautiful or beneficent. When two or three are gathered together to incarnate love and equality, playing out what was lived in the life of Jesus, rupturing the social fabric of the dominant classes, to the behest of the empire, I cannot help but yearn and long to be within the midst of this advent of justice.
I don’t believe in God but, I take Jesus seriously and I’m comfortable with the tension and I’m happy with the paradox.