by James M. Branum

Posts Tagged ‘atheism

Religion (Part 2)

with 2 comments

This is an update to my previous blog post: Religion (Part1) (which was a response to Getting Religion)

What a difference 4 months makes in one’s life! When I wrote part 1 of this series, things were going pretty hunky dory at my primary church home (an urban Mennonite church in OKC). Like every church we had our problems and tensions, but overall things were ok.

Today though, things are not ok. I have faced some pretty vicious attacks by those close to me at my church and my days there may be numbered. And strangely enough, the blog post Religion (Part1) is one of the things I have been attacked over.

While I don’t want to focus too much energy responding to negative spin, I do want to try to clarify things a bit.

My critics have made two criticisms of my post.

The first charge is that they say my post made it sound as if I “would be an atheist if I had the courage to be one” and that it is wrong for a minister of the church to say this.

In response to this charge, I’ve re-read my post. I can understand the confusion due to my imprecise language. However, in large part my intended continuation of the post was going to discuss in more detail WHY I DO BELIEVE. I’ll explain it more detail in part 3, but in short I believe, not because of logic reasoning, but rather because of intuitive knowledge. Certainly I think that it is possible to be intellectually consistent and faithful at the same time, but I also believe that logic by itself does not necessarily lead to faith. — Or to put it in other words, I don’t think the bulk of my atheist and agnostic friends lack faith due to their not thinking logically enough.

And I would go a step further. I think that many people (myself included) are turned off by the attempts to use logic as an apologetic tool. Too often the tool is used clumsily, inconsistently and even maliciously. I think it is much better to say that faith is a mystery, a grace given by God through the Holy Spirit.

Now as to me saying I admire atheists for their courage, well I do admire them, just as I admire anyone who is willing to state the truth as they understand it even if the catch flak for it. And I admire other things about my atheist friends. I admire their love (that isn’t tainted by fears of punishment for not loving) and their passion for the causes they believe in too.

The second charge that has been raised against me is that it was wrong for me to say that “God is too big to fit into only one religion.”

I stand by my statement. It is true. And I’ll go further. I don’t believe in a literal hell either. I think religions at their best moments all point to the Divine. They are all imperfect but they all have something to teach us. Christianity speaks the clearest to my heart so that is the tradition I identify with, but I have no problem with seeing Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, etc. as my brothers and sisters, as fellow seekers of the Divine.

When I wrote the prior blog post I was speaking for myself and only myself. If I were speaking on behalf of the church as a whole, I would have to frame things differently. Most members of my church know what I believe on these subjects and significant number agree with me. But I have not tried to cram these ideas down anyone’s throat or force others to adopt these views. I’ve accepted the fact that other members of the church believe in an exclusivistic kind of faith. I think those who believe this way are wrong on this issue, but they are still my sisters and brothers. I hope they feel the same about me. When I speak to the church through a sermon, I try to find messages that will encourage and uplift and challenge everyone, not just those I agree with.

Anyway there’s a lot more to say. I really want to go back to discussing the nature of faith and doubt in more detail (especially relating it back to the book A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I did want to write this post in an effort to bring some extra clarity.

To be continued . . .


Written by James M. Branum

October 22, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Religion (Part 1)…

with 3 comments

One of my best friends in activism, Rena wrote a blog post that really touched me and got me thinking (“Getting Religion”).

It touched me because I always enjoy hearing about the deepest aspects of personal lives, of those moments when folks started to become the people they were to become. I think the world we better if we all share more of those moments with each other, because those are the moments where we best connect with others (because so often those moments reminds us of our own big moments, that we so often don’t share). But I was especially glad to get this glimpse into what make’s my friend tick, as to what has taken her in her life journey from point A to point B.

But the blog post wasn’t just about appreciation of someone else’s journey but also about some questions. Let me start with this, it is interesting to me that Rena was the only one of her classmates who saw that the imagery of Christ of the Breadlines was the more accurate picture of what the Christ of the New Testament was all about, than most of the more traditional imagery. And it is even more interesting that this recognition of difference was something that led her in the end away from religion all together (at least as a believer).

And finally this little excerpt really interests me….

I finally realized that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And that’s when I “got” religion and stopped being a Christian. I realize that it’s possible that someone else, under the same circumstances, would make the opposite choice — in an alternate universe, maybe I’m the Pope. It took me many more years to come to realize I was or had at some point become an atheist, and to come to terms with that. But religion still fascinates me, like a lifelong research project, in the drastic/dramatic way it shapes people, and controls them, blinds them, and even sometimes enlightens and elevates them, and I still think if you read the New Testament, even the Cliff Notes version, and don’t come away seeing the Jesus depicted there (man, god, or literary character) as Christ of the Breadlines, there is something seriously wrong with your comprehension (it probably having been warped even more drastically by the many evils of dogma so that even religion isn’t “religious” anymore).

All of this is fascinating to me, because many of the same conclusions that Rena made (that the traditional imagery of Jesus obscures his more literal message, that religious dogma binds people up in oppression, etc.) are ones that I’ve made. Yet we went different ways in the end.

Rena is an atheist, admittedly one with a pretty evolved and tolerant view towards her religious comrades in social justice struggles.

I’m a Christian, but admittedly one who doesn’t take the Bible literally in most aspects, and who think that God is too big to fit into only one religion. (and on certain occasions even wonders if God really exists or not — but in the end makes the decision to believe despite the lack of evidence to prove the existence of God).

(I should add despite my own choice, I’m not convinced my choice is the best approach. I just feels right for me. Part of me even admires the atheist’s courage to take the world on its own terms without feeling the need for a higher power to give things meaning.)

One part of the puzzle of making sense of all of this I think is found in a book that I recently read (or rather listened to in audio format), which was recommended by Rena. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

To be continued… Religion (Part 2)

Written by James M. Branum

June 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm

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