Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Long to Worship. . . Song of a Reluctant Agnostic

I am a reluctant agnostic.  For the first 40 years of my life, I was a serious Christian of the Roman Catholic variety.  Then, I came out of my closet and started being the gay man I was born to be.  Trying to reconcile what I knew to be true in my own gay life with the traditional teachings of the Christian Church about homosexuality made the first chink in the armor of my religious belief.

I limped along as a quasi-Christian for ten years or so until 9/11/2001.  Then all hell broke loose in my attitudes toward religions and my belief in God.  The more I came to understand the motives and backgrounds of the 9/11 Muslim hijackers, the more I cam to understand that I once had had many of the same motives and a similar background.  I once believed that Christianity was the answer to all life's questions, beside which no other answer could exist.  I couldn't really condemn the Muslim hijackers for their intolerance when I once had been similarly intolerant.  I was educated in Catholic schools from grade school through graduate school.  Like the hijackers when I was their age, I was really clueless about people and religions other than my own.  I used to see the non-Christian world as a world of non-believing infidels out to destroy the beauty of the Christian faith.  9/11 showed me how foolish I had been.  Not only had Christianity condemned me for my gay nature, but it also had made me an intolerant and ignorant bigot.

My thoughts kept moving in a direction away from belief.  I saw clearly for the first time in my life the many fanciful beliefs and superstitions that had been a part of what I believed.  The Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the miracles, the quaint coincidences - all these things no longer were believable.  I realized that I had been taught that to doubt or to disbelieve any of these points of Christian faith was to give my soul over to darkness and the devil (the "devil" being another concept that I came to see as unbelievable).  With that teaching forefront in my mind, I never allowed myself to apply rational tests to my beliefs.

Then I thought about all the centuries of violence and murder caused by Christians trying to "convince" non-Christians of their Christian "truth."  I thought about all the wars between various Christian factions.  I thought about the heretics burned at the stake.  I thought about the Salem "witches."   I thought about the one town in Germany where, during the Inquisition, almost every woman was killed for practicing witchcraft.  On and on.  All those years studying Church History, and it took 9/11 to show me the truth of that history:  the Christian Church has never been primarily a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus.  Rather, it's been a secular power out to gain and keep secular influence, prestige, and wealth.

Throughout all this internal upheaval, and prominent everywhere, were the activities of the increasingly unreasonable fundamentalist Christians.   With my background, I had (and still have) many Christian friends.  Many accepted me as a gay man giving me a smile and a hug and asking lots of questions about my experiences.  Others quoted Scripture and warned me about the hot times ahead for me in the afterlife if I lived my gay life as a gay man.  To this latter group, my experience of life meant nothing.  Being straight, these people had not the faintest clue about being gay.  I told them my story.  I told them I know I was born gay.  I told them, "I am gay by God."  Didn't matter to them.  Gay was a "lifestyle choice."  I always had the option, according to these bigots, of turning to God and being "healed" of my homosexuality.  The fact that I sought healing in many ways over a 30 year period without success meant nothing to them.  The fact that I had come to know in the depths of my being that I was born gay, that I had to live gay, and that I would die gay meant nothing.  Because my life didn't conform to their superstitious reading of old Semitic tribal prohibitions and lore, my life was wrong.  I was wrong.  I was an unrepentant sinner and I was going to hell.

That wasn't all!  American fundamentalist Christians no longer want to believe in science.  Global warming is too inconvenient for them and remedies for it are too expensive and life-changing.  Therefore, science is wrong.  Evolution isn't compatible with their literal reading of old Semitic sagas, so science is wrong.  Public schools don't teach the Christian values they so unthinkingly hold to, so public schools are no good and home teaching is necessary.  On and on these Christians go, making our country - not long ago a model of an educated citizenry - an intellectual laughingstock around the world.

Sometime after 9/11, then, I dropped all pretenses of being a Christian and gladly called myself a former Christian.  My belief in God, once the center of my life, now seemed to me a superstitious exercise in wishful thinking, so I stopped believing.  I have never been able, however, completely to deny the existence of God.  Such a denial raises as many questions in my mind as does a total acceptance of the idea of God.  So I call myself an agnostic.

But I'm a reluctant agnostic.  I don't worry about hell or judgment.  As a gay buddy of mine says, "Every gay American has been to hell and back, so hell holds no power over us."  What makes me reluctant is the beauty of belief.  Listen to the song I posted at the beginning of this piece, As the Deer.  It's a pretty song, but that's not the attraction for me.  The trust and love described in the song are the things that I miss about believing in God.  And those things are beautiful to me.  I envy the believers who experience those aspects of belief.  Look also at the photograph of Bernini's sculpture of St. Teresa of Avila in ecstasy, famous for its sensuality.  The woman looks orgasmic in her meditation.  Her love of God is shown to be a physical as well as a spiritual phenomenon.   Similarly, check out the painting of St. Francis of Assisi worshiping the crucified Jesus.  I've always thought of this painting as practically homoerotic.  Who wouldn't want such an experience in life?  Who wouldn't want to believe in a God who so consumes a person with love that physical existence is transformed and made more intense?  I want such things.  I want to worship as Teresa and Francis worshiped.  I want to adore a Being who not only created and sustains me, but who loves me with the intensity bordering on the erotic that is depicted in these two pieces of art.

Alas, as they used to say, that ship seems to have sailed for me.  I still enjoy the art of religion - its music, paintings, and sculpture.  But I can't go back.  I don't think I'll ever be able to believe again when I know the intellectual and personal cost of such a belief.  If God exists, God will have to come to me in stark rational thought, with no bullshit about heaven and hell or the virgin birth.  God will have to meet the requirements of my rational mind.  No more suspension of disbelief for this former believer!

1 comment:

  1. I like this too. I can't think of anything insightful to say, other than that it struck a chord in me.