The Christianity I grew up with subscribed quite explicitly to all the Fundamentals and more or less to Calvin’s TULIP. When I began to understand these doctrines, rather than to just recite them, and to see their logical conclusions for the world, I concluded that the God that must derive from them was a petty, tyrannical, malicious egomaniac. Rather like a very overgrown playground bully. Such a judgmental, capricious deity is often at odds with the absolute attributes of God that I also learned in Sunday School: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, ineffable, impassionate, and infinite. And completely antithetical to the God Is Love refrain. As soon as my neurology accommodated analytical thinking, I began questioning how all these disparate things could be simultaneously Truth. The answer was, according to those wiser elders whom I asked, “Ahh, that is the mystery of God.” Or the confusion wrought by man, more likely.
In the back of my mind, like a holy descant, was a visceral knowing of the Divine. Despite my constant vigilance against the clairvoyance, prophecy, and knowledge of things I shouldn’t, no matter how I prayed for protection against these manifestations of the Evil One, God never “delivered” me from my unwanted mysticism, my forbidden psychic nature. Against all attempts at unknowing, like I knew water was wet, I knew the Divine.
It wasn’t until I renounced Christianity and shoved the shouting, shaming god of the doctrines into a locked up corner of my mind that I could take notice of that holy descant. When I lay in savasana at the end of a yoga class and heard the empty fullness of my mind, when I sat in silent communion with my baby in the dark of the night, after sex when I was only half in my body, the tears would flow. A healing rain for my soul. There was Love. A constantly moving but never changing river of Love flowing through, over, in, around, under everything in the universe. That was a Love I could trust.
Yet, just as my mystical, psychic knowing leaked uncomfortably into my rigid Christian worldview, so too did that shaming god of Christian creedal doctrine continue to control my very way of being in the world. He may no longer have used Christian vocabulary or take issue with the same lifestyle points, but always he/I preached whatever cause I espoused with the same religious fervor as any Evangelical in a pulpit: organic agriculture, buy local, natural materials for children’s toys, holistic medicine, nutrition, homebirth, homeschool, environmental awareness. Each and every cause had its own dogma and legalisms that I worked tirelessly to uphold, all in order to be recognized as the best, most-natural, most organic, most homegrown… let’s face it… the most holy mother in the community. I guilt-tripped newcomers and “heathens” frequently, publicly, and with much self-righteous gratification. I didn’t use the bible to thump anyone but I sure knew how to quote appropriate texts for whatever sermon I was preaching.
Fortunately, my children refused to live in the same kind of box I was aggressively marketing to other families. No matter what rules I picked to uphold, my family insisted on blasting through them. When, finally, my health broke down and my sanity was more than suspect, I couldn’t follow any more rules and I certainly couldn’t try to bully or bribe my family into adherence either. For the better part of two years, I lived just trying to get through the day. Everyone fed themselves, managed their own schooling, and hid out in their rooms. Everything I thought was so important, that made us better than the rest, went right out the window. Apparently I hadn’t trusted that Love much at all.
The true breaking point was early in that Dark Night of the Soul when I couldn’t hear the descant anymore. All my knowing disappeared. I couldn’t read people, couldn’t feel their emotions or sense their internal dramas; I had no more dreams or visions. I no longer knew the Wet of the River of Love. It was like suddenly losing my sense of taste and smell—something you don’t think you rely on to make sense (pun intended) of the world until it is gone. Obviously, despite my avid denials, I had become accustomed to that psychic sense of the world. After that, my brain function really dried up and I began to beg whatever God there might still be just to let me die.
By spring 2009, just over a year ago, the protocol for recovery was working well enough that I could look at the bigger picture—beyond just my physical functioning, what were the more fundamental problems that disposed me to ruin my health? And more importantly, how to transform them into factors of healing rather than of disease? I was genuinely bewildered; there seemed nowhere to look. I had been doing everything right, followed all the rules: ate well, exercised, lived for others, tried to save the world. I should have been the healthiest person in town.
Then the book that I started this blog with jumped off a table at me and I started this quest into fundamentalism and Christianity (and, of course, where the two converge in my life). Through the summer and fall last year, I began acknowledging how deeply and completely Fear had ruled my life and how my vain were my attempts to control the fears by perfecting the rules. By the time I was ready to claim being a Christian again, I was only willing to do so on the condition that I not be ruled by the legalisms that Fear begets as well as is begotten of.
The Rules of any fundamentalism, however well-intentioned originally, always miss the point of the cause. Just as navel-gazing became the hilarious euphemism for trying to fake enlightenment in the hippy oriental-flavored 60’s spirituality, so too is biblical literalism and other idolatrous adherence to doctrine over Divine communion. Many people do find enlightenment through meditating on the breath in the belly, of course, that’s how the stereotype came to be. Similarly, many Christians have found the images of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, Crucifixion as Propitiation, and other doctrines to be devices that facilitated communion with both the Divine and humanity. But for those for whom the device doesn’t succeed, dogmatic practice of the device becomes ritualized. Rules become the standard rather than relationship. When a device becomes divisive, idolatry occurs.
Being so ill for so long, trying so hard to follow the doctor’s advice, only to have it make me sicker and crazier, made me realize, as nothing else could, that rules never work. Only principles work. The rules hadn’t kept me from sickness, rather they’d caused it. Rules didn’t keep my family functioning during my disability, but having understood principles of taking care of oneself and others was what allowed everyone to pull together to do what needed doing.
Therefore, when I came back to Christianity, I accepted no rules only essential principles. Creeds and doctrines are more rules than principle. Creeds state what must be believed—a rule. Christian principles are those essential mantras that Jesus taught—love God and neighbor, forgive the brother, do good to those who hurt you, do unto others. I didn't agree that the creedal doctrines are inherent in what Jesus said—rather as what later, sometimes much later, theologians said he meant. It doesn't make the creeds wrong—if they lead to the kind of radically loving life that Jesus did teach. I think ANY doctrine that fosters its believers in a deeply loving life is great—for them.
For me, I am not convinced that the bible necessarily teaches a Trinity, Original Sin, or Final Judgement. I wanted to start at the absolute foundation and rebuild my new Christian theology from there. My fundamental, doesn’t-get-any-more-elemental foundation I defined as “some kind of God exists and there's this collection of Middle Eastern Antiquities writings about this guy who appears to have been a radical itinerant preacher who taught about this God.”
Starting from that incredibly skeletal beginning, I began reading the scholars of Bible, historians of religion, and mystics (again, still, always). The one thing they all agreed on—even when they didn’t even agree on a single other point—was that this iterant preacher taught a radical kind of love for God and for fellow man. So that single point, radical “wasteful loving” as Jack Spong calls it, became my Basic Christian Doctrine.