Q & R: Church without … God?
Here's the Q:
I have been reading your books and articles for many years and much of your spiritual journey parallels my own. I am very drawn to the ideas you and your fellow travellers promote and I want to jump boots and all into a new kind of Christian lifestyle. I have been agnostic about the literal existence of God, as an entity completely independent of our own minds, for several years now and although I can no longer accept that the Bible records literally true events that would be recognisable in video playback, I do appreciate the power of the stories of the Bible and its ability to guide and inspire us on our spiritual journeys. Although I cannot affirm any creeds, I still feel that the central Christian concepts of love, reconciliation and the power of sacrifice are a wonderful core spirituality for a meaningful life.
I want to find a contemplative and open mainline church to be part of and once again feel a part of a growing and searching community as I was for the first 40 years of my life. What holds me back is that I find it impossible to pretend. Impossible to go to church and pray as if there is a self-existent being listening to me. I can't embrace the metaphor and lose myself in it. I can't sing the hymns or the songs that are for me forever connected to fundamentalist ideas about truth and obligation.
I long for what I once had as an evangelical but can't feel comfortable pretending to really believe while those around me orient their whole lives around a list of things they believe that I just do not.
Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. It points up the problem with the word "God" that more and more people are having … from self-existent being entirely independent of our own minds to big man with long white beard on floating throne to angry celestial dictator with thunderbolts or hellfires waiting to intimidate the rebellious into compliance.
My friend Frank Schaeffer recently published a book on this subject - highly worth reading: Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God. In the book, and also in his recent novel And God Said "Billy!", Frank shares with rare honesty how he grapples with these issues …
On a more philosophical level, I recommend Richard Kearney's Anatheism. At some point, I might take on this subject myself. We'll see.
On the church side - my Unitarian friends would be quick to offer a safe and open spiritual home for you, and some United Church of Christ congregations, among other denominations, would also be happy welcome you without pressuring you to say or sing things you don't mean. But what might be most meaningful at this point would be to find a trained spiritual director who would help you explore other ways to think of and relate to God. One of my friends said it this way: "We need to bring God back on a higher level."
My book Naked Spirituality might be meaningful to you in all this … because the God that no longer works for you is the Stage-1 and Stage-2 God of Simplicity and Complexity. I think there are understandings of God that emerge at later stages in the spiritual journey that could be highly meaningful to you. Thanks again for writing, and for expressing what more and more people feel.