I wrote a piece titled On Christianity and other important ways I understand the world, and when it was done it came to five and a half thousand words; quite a read. This thing is though: I’ve read it a few times now since I first wrote it nearly two years ago, and I don’t want to remove anything.
I decided to write a TL;DR version and keep both; here goes.
Christianity has played a significant role in my life. I am deeply grateful for my family and the Christian upbringing that I was gifted by them. But in recent years – perhaps as I have entered my middle age – or perhaps as a result of my personal experiences of pain and loss – I have been asking a lot of questions of my theology that seem to have uncomfortable and disconcerting answers. This piece is my attempt at sorting my questions and doubts into some semblance of coherence.
First; both as an individual and as part of collective religious community, I am worried that Christian thinking has led me to an out-of-proportion assuredness of my own rightness. As an individual, I was taught strong views that God, through the Holy Spirit, speaks regularly and specifically to me – this provided powerful validation as an individual, but in ways that were/are difficult to test and validate.
Then, as part of various communities, I learned the view that Christianity represented the predominant force for unmitigated good on the planet. I now see this belief as significantly problematic, as it carried along with it a self-protection mechanism that invalidated critique by the “world” whilst at the same time providing the basis for a religion that has been eminently successful in validating and enabling some of the most aggressive, violent and colonising empires in history.
Second; my primary take-away for many years revolved around seeing Christianity as principally concerned with personal morality and enabling individuals to deal with personal sin against a perfect God. As I understood it, Christians were called to live in community, but our individual lives before God were the primary concern. In recent times, I have found myself considering the Biblical narrative, and Jesus in particular, as providing critique of collective systems – of systemic or structural evil – rather than just individual actions. I now see this endeavour as more difficult, more nuanced but with the chance of far greater collective redemption and possibility for change as communities.
In asking these questions of the individual vs collective, I also found myself asking questions of the nature of Jesus’ execution by torture on a Roman cross. Rather than viewing his murder as a symbolic atonement for sin, I started asking why the people who actually killed Jesus, chose and desired to do so. I have come to the view that his torture and murder was more a result of his resistance against men wielding oppressive power than a sacrifice of atonement required by a deity.
My worry is that a Christianity emphasising personal salvation obtained because of a symbolic atonement for sin achieved through the death of Jesus is highly compatible with seeing the world through the lens of my Western privilege and also highly compatible with the Western democracy in which I live. That is, I worry that this form of Christianity supports the status quo in significant ways – rather than advocating for change in pursuit of a more beautiful world and society.
Keep in mind that I might be wrong about everything, but as I find myself today, I have lots of questions for which the Christianity of my younger years does not provide satisfying answers.
I am not prepared to throw out my Christian belief, but neither am I prepared to remain with the status quo. I am not sure quite where that leaves me, but I do know I desire to live a beautiful life as part of beautiful community and society.
To the degree that this does not make sense, or piques your interest, read my longer piece on the subject here.