Following up: the shape of my religious faith.

My post from a few days ago has elicited a surprising amount of kind response - sincere thanks for that, and apologies to those of you I freaked out. I want to follow up with a post that might be significantly more complicated and therefore less interesting. The bulk of responses, beyond the very kind variations on 'thanks for sharing this', related to concerns about definitions around 'resurrection' and a question about what I DO believe, from Mom. Hopefully this post will address those concerns to some degree. I apologize that I haven't had time to present the following in a clearer form for those of you who aren't academic theologians!

Since leaving Evangelicalism behind, I've wrestled quite a bit with what I am, and why I am still religious. 'Liberal' has always had negative connotations to me - either identifying those who don't know what they believe and aren't trying, or those who lost faith and remains religious for social reasons. In popular liberalism there might be some truth in the first stereotype. In my own life the struggle has been with the second - with a saving 'Gospel' of belief no longer there to hold religion together, I really have had questions about whether I'm just here for social/financial reasons. 'Emergent' has been a handy moniker since I've been in Seattle because it doesn't really mean anything concrete yet, but vaguely suggests a brand of religion that pretentious urban post-evangelicals (like me) talk about on the internet and in bars.

As an Anglican, I think I have to be identified undeniably as a liberal, in some sense, because I believe in a broad expression of religion - encouraging people from across the belief spectrum to come together through ritual, at the Eucharist, to reinforce our unity as humans, under God. That, I think, is a sort of religious political liberalism that I'm happy to identify myself with.

Theologically, I have had a hard time identifyiing with liberalism because of the association in my mind with a sort of relativism that I don't really buy - the absolutist sense that we don't know, so we shouldn't judge. That's a caricature though, and I'm finding myself more and more comfortable with seeing myself as a part of the liberal tradition. According to Wikipedia,

"Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, (that means interpretation) an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma. A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity."

The thing I would add is that liberalism, I think, was the beginning of a transition, not an end to a process. I think the advent of liberalism marked a collective Western loss of faith, followed by an attempt to reform it. In the community that continues in that attempt, a new form of Christianity is going to emerge with a more definite, positively stated set of understandings that are informed by the biblical criticism that the Wikipedia article talks about, as well as anthropological and sociological understandings about the role of religion and ritual in human society, alongside tradition and scripture. We're still a ways off, but I see myself as part of a struggle to take the next step, and put together some concrete statements of religious truth - roughly, a 'unified set of propositional beliefs' - that will better reflect our pluralistically experienced and scientifically informed reality than does traditional/orthodox theology. I think that's what is being talked about as 'emergence Christianity'. There are going to be a lot of new strains of Christianity that emerge from this context.

Following on that, here are some bullet points that might be helpful in pointing towards where I am, or might just add to your confusion (or make me seem crazy):

1) I think of religions as organized systems of rituals and community that reinforce shared beliefs and values.

2) Many Westerners have found religion to reinforce beliefs and values that we no longer hold. Most of us in that category leave 'organized religion' behind. That's fine - modern society has sorted out a variety of ways to fulfil religion's traditional role outside of institutional bodies.

3) I have found religion to reinforce beliefs and values that I no longer hold, but have stuck with it as a reformer - I think there's something essential there worth salvaging, and I think a lot of the hard work has been done. We can get to a point where the rituals, the beliefs and the experienced realities line up again. In the meantime, the question of what I believe is really difficult to answer, and belief isn't exactly why I'm still here.

4) I do think a key part of what I believe is that the tradition of God's 'mystery' in Christianity is something we need to affirm, and that fundamentalism doesn't hold up when we get to know people from other religions, or get to know a bit about science and history.

5) I think that the future of much Christian, and at least Anglican, theology might be moving in a direction called 'Trinitarian Panentheism'. Essentially what this means is that 'God' is present in everything (in traditional terms, as the Holy Spirit/the Sustainer), that God is also greater than everything (in traditional terms, as the Father/the Creator) , and that God was present in a unique way in Jesus ('the Son'/'the Redeemer'). There's something important here that ties us all together, and ties us all together with creation, and elevates Jesus to a primary place in our faith. I also think it is a beautiful metaphor of the shape of reality, and the most helpful one for me as someone who is very concerned with the correspondence between religion and reality.

I'm running out of time before class - I'm going to have to follow up on this one too, because there's still a lot to say.


Unknown said…
Another nice post. Thanks.

I notice you're still very concerned about creating prepositional beliefs. I'll be interested in seeing if you are still that concerned about it after you read Karen Armstrong's new book _The Battle for God_. I've not read it yet, but the reviews I've read say it makes a strong case that prepositional beliefs are not what "belief" has historically meant and not really very helpful.

I like your description of Trinitarian Panentheism. I've been a Panentheist since reading Matthew Fox (the difference being that his definition includes everything being in God as well as God being in everything) but have, frankly, struggled with the idea of the Trinity--an idea that's more difficult because it's a sticking point between Christians and the other monotheistic faiths.