So this is Easter... and what have you done
April 7, 2007 10:27 PM   Subscribe

What is a devout Christian to do that doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ?

I was brought up RC, I rejected it during high school, remained agnostic throughout young adulthood. Though, I hated the Roman church, I eventually came back to Christianity (PCUSA) in my mid 30s. I found some solace there for a while, but now I'm back where I started from. I love and accept the message, the Gospels, all of it. But I cannot accept the divinity of Jesus. I don't doubt that he lived and walked among our forebears, but I cannot accept the miracles and such as anything more than apocryphal add-ons to consolidate or convince belief in him as a deity.

Today, I enjoy and get a great deal out of going to services (the folks that conduct services at the local PCUSA church I go to are very intelligent, open-minded and cool), but I am at a point where I cannot bring myself to go any more, for I cannot pass even the most basic litmus test for being there. I feel like a hypocrite for even sitting in those pews.

Should I just forgo the whole thing altogether, as it's just a huge waste of time for them, and for me?

I do believe in a higher being (though not some anthropomorphic old man with a beard), I believe in a higher purpose for all of us, and I believe in redemption for the penitent (so I'm 75% of the way to being there), but I cannot accept the dogma.

So, this religion thing... is it best to give up on it? Or, is there some other way to look at it, and by extension, Christianity, that I haven't thought of?
posted by psmealey to Religion & Philosophy (82 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Unitarians sound like your kind of people, maybe.
posted by dilettante at 10:34 PM on April 7, 2007

I was going to say the same thing. It sounds like you should look into Unitarianism.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:38 PM on April 7, 2007

Thirded. There are a few churches in your area, go check them out.

I've never been to one myself but from what I've read and heard about it, it sounds like it fits what you're looking for.
posted by saraswati at 10:41 PM on April 7, 2007

What is a devout Christian to do that doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ?

Decide that if having your beliefs makes you be a better person by giving you a higher standard to aim for, then a disagreement you have in the privacy of your own soul with some piece of religious trivia doesn't really matter.
posted by foobario at 10:42 PM on April 7, 2007

Another recommendation for you to try a Unitarian Universalist congregation. They would probably have the most familiar church service for you, while not prescribing a strict dogma. You would probably benefit from the spiritual community you can find there, as well as being among others who have similar questions about their beliefs.

As one who believes in the divinity of Christ myself, and who has done fairly significant exploration of different sects of the faith, I would say that most traditional Christian denominations would strongly disagree that one can call himself a Christian without this belief.
posted by kyleg at 10:48 PM on April 7, 2007

Recognize that one doesn't have to be religious to be good and moral; take from the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus the good bits about caring for others, mercy, and forgiveness and forget about the supernatural stuff. The philosophical teachings can be appreciated separately from the mumbo jumbo.

But if you still feel like you want a connection to a group of people who go to services and such the suggest that others have made is spot on; try the Unitarians.
posted by Justinian at 10:50 PM on April 7, 2007

Well, what do you believe about Jesus? Are you... Jewish? If Christ wasn't divine, than surely the old covenant is still in place... or was Moses not divine either?

You're faith doesn't sound particularly religious to me.
posted by phrontist at 11:05 PM on April 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

So yeah, Unitarians!
posted by phrontist at 11:06 PM on April 7, 2007

If I were a believer in the "Arian heresy" I'd look into the Jehovah's Witnesses as well. What I've experienced of UUism has moved away from old-fashioned Unitarianism (dilettante linked to that Wikipedia article already) toward a more inclusive, eclectic, New Age kind of spirituality that bear more resemblance to a Wiccan/Pagan-type thing, whereas the Jehovah's Witnesses (see also the Wikipedia article) are less about "warm fuzzies" and more like a "traditional" kind of church-community. Anyway, here's the web site for the Unitarian Universalist Association.
posted by davy at 11:10 PM on April 7, 2007

I sometimes go to church and I don't even believe in God, so you're doing one better than me. I don't think it's hypocritical to find comfort in the parts of the tradition you agree with while ignoring the parts you don't.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:14 PM on April 7, 2007

Best answer: Become an atheist!

I'm an atheist and I am positive that Jesus existed. I have seen many documentaries and read many books (including the Bible) which have led me to believe that. But to be clear, I am an atheist who believes that there was a person who inspired Christianity named Jesus, but much like you, I don't believe he was capable of performing the miracles he was said to have performed. I think at best he was a a fantastic con artist who performed some great magic tricks similar to a circus magician today, and at worst he was some poor peasant-type who got railroaded into being a figurehead for a money-making scheme concocted by smarter people than him.

And obviously, since I don't believe in God, I clearly don't believe him to be the son of God.

But you don't need to be a church-going religious type who believes in the spirituality of Jesus or God to appreciate the customs and lessons that the better parts of the Christian creed can teach us. I'm an atheist but I know not to kill anyone, or to steal, or to rape someone or whatever. Like you, I can appreciate that it was largely Christianity and its messages that brought such principles to bear in Western society, but I have my own code of ethics and no fear in a magical sky wizard who will judge me in the afterlife to keep me on that track.

And as for belief in a higher power, it is arguable that we all have that. Religious types have God or Allah or whatever, but scientists could be said to believe that science itself is a higher power. Economists might believe that money or the economy is a higher power. UFO enthusiasts might say aliens are a higher power. Me? I'm not so sure that there is such a thing. If I was to place my faith in anything it would probably be myself. But if I had to choose something I would probably put it with science, since it's done a lot to get us where we are today (for better or for worse).

Finally, should you keep going to church? That's up to you. I have Christian friends who go to church every Sunday but I never see them there because obviously, I don't go myself. Surely you can see them outside those hours? But since you enjoy the services, then perhaps you could continue to go anyway. Who knows? Maybe the services will, in time, bring you to better understand Jesus and faith and what these things mean to you more than the ramblings of a godless heathen like me might be able to.

Whatever you decide to do though, good luck, and I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:23 PM on April 7, 2007 [12 favorites]

psmealey: I find myself in almost the same place. Fortunately, I've found myself a spiritual community that allows me to be myself, without pretension or fakery. I can be honest about my crisis/redefinition of faith, and am not made to feel like a hypocrite or pressured to change.

People like us are out there. Keep looking.

FWIW, I don't think Unitarian Universalism would be a great fit in my present context - I still consider myself a Christian, although I'm a bit uncomfortable admitting it, because of some of the dogma that I can't go along with. Whereas, like davy, my experience of UU has been pretty fuzzy, least-common-denominator 'Wiccan/Pagan-type thing'

If you're a reader, I highly recommend N.T. Wright - he's an Anglican bishop and an expert in 1st century Judaism and early Christianity. His books (start with Simply Christian) deal with attempting to understand the significance of Jesus in his own time, without projecting later theological/creedal arguments onto the Biblical record. So, for example, he asks, "Did Jesus think of himself as divine?"

Hope this helps in some way. Good luck.
posted by puddleglum at 11:33 PM on April 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Consult a lawyerpastor. I am pretty fucking far from a pastor, but I'd bet a nice lunch that if you had a talk with your PCUSA pastor, you'd be told that:

**It's common for churchgoers to struggle with* the divinity of Christ, and this is not a big deal.
**You should keep going.
**You should pray about it.

*That's whatcha call a euphemism for "personally denying."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:39 PM on April 7, 2007

Yeah, what effigy2000 said- you're all but an athiest, by definition. Your higher being is not anthropomorphic, so it's pointless- if you don't believe in a higher being that is anthropomorphic, you don't believe in a higher being at all. Unless, by higher being you mean "the wind" or "electroweak forces". That's what you meant, yes? For all practical purposes, you are an athiest, regardless of having these fuzzy "higher purpose" concepts, which is just like a feel-good panacea so you don't overthink things. Religion is for your mind like a meaty bone throwing to a guard dog- something that keeps you internal recursive craziness at bay, so you can get on with your life.

As an athiest- and, I'd like to believe, a fairly ethical and moral person- I resent when people feel like you can't be "good" if you aren't religious. It's quite to the contrary, I'd argue: you've discarded the spirituality of religion yet kept the moral part, making it far more valuable. It's the difference between knowing something because you've come to truly understand it, and merely going through the motions.

Again, as effigy2000 notes, if the only thing holding you back from utterly psychopathic and selfish behavior is the fear of a bearded skygod, you would at heart be a far more evil and unevolved person than someone who believes nothing but our own self keeps us in check- and then lives a good, moral, giving life.

As for going to church- hey, if you enjoy the community, keep it up. But I guess if anyone asks, or the topic comes up, you should probably be frank and honest about your beliefs. If they reject you- well, then you need to find a community (like the Unitarians, apparently) who would accept you. But if they accept you- then that's what you ultimately want, right? To retain the community, and the friendships, without feeling like you're living a lie to yourself or these people.
posted by hincandenza at 11:41 PM on April 7, 2007

I'd wait for grace and keep your faith in yourself, psmealey. It sounds like you are addressing things with courage, an open mind and a good heart, so it's just a question of time.
posted by Abiezer at 11:59 PM on April 7, 2007

The reason why Christians believe in Christ's teachings is because they were sanctioned by God (if He didn't like what Jesus taught, he wouldn't have raised him from the dead). If you don't believe in the divinity of Christ, then his philosophy has about as much validity as L. Ron Hubbard's.
posted by kisch mokusch at 12:17 AM on April 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you enjoy going to your church, keep going to your church.

Ultimately it doesn't matter what's in our private thoughts; it's the way we treat each other that counts. That's what builds community, and it's pretty clearly the community aspect of your church that's of value to you. A simple failure to share some of the delusions of your fellow community members doesn't disqualify you, as long as you keep this fact to yourself. Don't frighten the horses and you'll be fine.

The emperor may well have no clothes, but if you want to keep enjoying the sight of his shapely arse, you'll keep that little fact to yourself :-)

You're unlikely to be given the bum's rush even if you get sprung - any church that rejects you for an unbeliever is clearly doing a piss-poor job of aiding your salvation.
posted by flabdablet at 12:21 AM on April 8, 2007

psmealey did not anywhere say that he was afraid that if he stopped going to church, he would inevitably rape people to death, eat their flesh, and make clothing out of their skin. Ergo, responses that he does not need to be a believer to be good or moral seem to be missing the point. He doesn't seem to be concerned with his morality, but with his faith.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:24 AM on April 8, 2007

Religion is often a profound and complex combination of public and private spirituality, tradition, and social construct. I don't think any of us can answer the question for anyone else. People have lots of different reasons for going to church, and you might be surprised if you knew how many people around you in those pews weren't towing the dogmatic line 100%.

If you feel like you're getting something out of participating in the community and hearing the sermons, then try not to let your doubts overshadow those benefits.

if you don't believe in a higher being that is anthropomorphic, you don't believe in a higher being at all.

Uh, I know a few thousand Jews who would beg to differ... go easy on the sweeping generalizations, if you please.
posted by nadise at 12:42 AM on April 8, 2007

Despite your personal beliefs, hincandeza, I think it's hard to cast psmealey as an "atheist" when he clearly says he believes in a higher power; a more accurate term would be agnostic, theist or even (and this was a new one for me) agnostic theist.

More on point to the question, people have been questioning the divinity of Jesus for a long, long time (and not just UUs). I'd bet Thomas Jefferson's edited version of the Gospels would be something you could get behind.

And I agree, talk to your pastor. He might not be much help, but then again he might -- I'm not a religious person but I've felt like most pastors I know would provide very sound, thoughtful advice to whatever you asked them. It sounds from your description like your church might be the perfect place for someone with your doubts to go, and I would be surprised if some of them hadn't had similar questions as you have.
posted by SuperNova at 12:45 AM on April 8, 2007

I concur with atheism. You pretty much have to agree with the first couple of councils that all Christians believe in to call yourself a Christian. Fully human and fully divine was an early problem that was solved. Read up on Christian history. It gets sticky after Martin Luther (due to a lot of reasons, most being political removal from the Pope, then others followed). Most of the main tenants are common across all demoninations, Protestant or Catholic, with few exceptions. Read up on your history, decide what parts of faith you believe are secular and which were politically inspired.

Believing that Mary had original sin and still being called Christian? Yes. Believing that Jesus wasn't the Son of God? Not Christian. That's Jewish, more or less.

I know plenty of Atheists who believe in the moral teachings of the Bible. It is not a bad book.
posted by geoff. at 1:35 AM on April 8, 2007

If you don't believe in the divinity of Christ, then his philosophy has about as much validity as L. Ron Hubbard's.

Or, not. Moral philosophy is funny that way. Lots of the core principles actually become a lot more attractive when they're detached from an institution that's traded on them for 2000 years.

One's religious practices and theological beliefs are not cognates. Some people might argue that they ought to be, but that's really never been the case. If churches excluded people for doubt (or certain disbelief) in key tenets, then the pews would be empty.

If you can embrace your inner 'hypocrite' and feel comfortable with the services, more power to your elbow. If you feel like you don't belong there, stop going. If you want to be convinced your not-belief belief is wrong, talk to the pastor. If not, don't, and don't feel as if you're committing some great evil by not declaring your not-belief belief. Unless you can't help feeling that it's a bad thing, in which case stop going.

Ultimately, the one litmus test for being at a particular place of worship is your willingness to show up. Everything else is icing on the cake.

(Many people here suggest alternative denominations for situations like this, which may be technically useful but often practically and psychologically less so.)
posted by holgate at 1:36 AM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you don't believe in a higher being that is anthropomorphic, you don't believe in a higher being at all.

Pantheists, Pandeists, Panendeists, Panentheists, Theists, and Transtheists would disagree with you on that.
posted by divabat at 1:56 AM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Believing that Jesus wasn't the Son of God? Not Christian. That's Jewish, more or less.

No, that's just "not Christian", or at least not mainstream Christianity as it's practiced today. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Deists, atheists, and plenty of others believe Jesus wasn't divine, and Judaism is quite different from just "Christianity without the Jesus".

Sorry for the sidetrack, but I felt that was too misleading to let lie.
posted by SuperNova at 2:12 AM on April 8, 2007

Number One: If you are happy with your church and your congregation and find fulfilling fellowship there, perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to stick with it. I guarantee there are probably many there struggling with the same issue and you CAN disagree with the some of the dogma without being a "bad" Christian. However, if you are looking for a fresh perspective, I would recommend the following:

I would probably look into a UU church if I were you, but I am also going to second the recommendation that you seek out a liberal Friends (Quaker) Meeting in your area. I say liberal, as there are more conservative Friends meetings that believe in a more literal interpretation of the Bible and of Christs's divinity. Liberal Friends tend to be more open to a multitude of interpretations and beliefs. Some do focus on Christ. Some tend to shy away from strictly Christian language. But most that I am aware of do not require a belief in the divinity of Christ. There is, in fact, a vigorous debate among Friends regarding the divinity of Christ and there are plenty of Friends out there who do not believe that he was divine. The great thing about many liberal Friends Meetings is that such a belief is not required and one does not need to hold to it to be a respected and valued member of a local Meeting.

There are two types of Quaker meetings for worship: programmed (or 'Pastoral') and unprogrammed. Programmed meetings tend to be more structured and usually proceed similarly to many Protestant services. Unprogrammed meetings are quite different. They usually consist of sitting in silence and waiting to be led by spirit. Some feel moved to stand up and say something or share something. Many simply sit in silence and reflect on God, spirit or their own inner light. It sounds quite simple but it can be extremely moving. Sitting in silence with a group of open-minded reverent Friends might be just the ticket for quieting your doubts and hearing what God (spirit, whatever your conception of it) might have to say to you without being bogged down by fears that you aren't falling into lockstep with those who believe completely in the divinity of Christ. Modern liberal Friends are notoriously idiosyncratic when it comes to personal religious beliefs. I have even heard of pagans attending liberal meetings and coming away with profound spiritual insights. (Quakers in general are well-known for being an eccentric, stubborn lot!)

Quakerfinder is an excellent resource for finding meetings. They are associated with the Friends General Conference, which tends to represent more liberal, unprogrammed Meetings.

I am not a Quaker but I have been lucky enough to attend a few unprogrammed meetings and found them profoundly moving. Something you might want to look into.
posted by LeeJay at 2:17 AM on April 8, 2007

Jeez (no pun intended), this seems so straightforward to me, and most of y'alls are blowing this way out of proportion.

I just don't get these people who say that if you can't believe in the divinity of Christ and don't see G-d as being some kind of bearded guy in the sky, then you must ipso-facto be an atheist.

Nothing against atheists, many of them are great people. But they're shit when it comes to giving spiritual advice. By definition they don't believe in any kind of god. Why trust their advice? Would you ask a Christian Scientist about blood transfusions? Or a conservative Baptist for masturbation techniques? No, you wouldn't. If someone on AskMe asked a question about evolution I would expect the Creationists to sit on their hands -- or at least that the questioner would understand that their answers didn't amount to a hill of beans.

You are clearly a spiritual being who gets pleasure from being connected to G-d. You just don't have a name for her/him/it yet, and maybe you never will. You like the teachings of Jesus -- many of which are pretty great -- but don't want to accept him as a divine being. These are all compatible with living a fulfilling spiritual (and even religious) life, just not in the traditional Christian context. Like everyone else has said, it's the Unitarians you're probably looking for.

Believing that Jesus wasn't the Son of God? Not Christian. That's Jewish, more or less.
(Echoing SuperNova) everyone, write this on your foreheads:
Judaism != ( Christianity - Jesus )
posted by Deathalicious at 2:36 AM on April 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: (Am I the only person who reads "PCUSA" as Partido Communista USA?)

Deathalicious is right -- the people saying "you are an atheist" are being unhelpful and inaccurate. You directly say that you believe in a higher being, etc -- you are clearly not an atheist, and I don't think you will find your answers in atheism. Similarly, being monotheistic and believing in the God of Abraham without accepting the divinity of Christ doesn't simply default you to being Jewish.

Christianity as a whole, and most sects within Christianity as well, has always been a "big tent" religion. In theory, to be Roman Catholic, one is supposed to give the Pope a lot of credence, right? But in practice, if the Catholic church kicked out everyone who thinks that Benedict XVI is a nice enough guy but isn't divinely inspired, the pews would empty out pretty fast. In theory, the divinity of Christ is the bedrock, definitional part of Christianity... but there are a lot of Christians who think Jesus was a nice guy with an important message, or even that "Jesus" is actually the synthesis of a bunch of historical people. Many, many, many people read the bible, old and new testaments, not in a literal "Jesus was the actual son of God, born of an actual virgin, who performed actual miracles" sense, but instead as a set of deeply meaningful stories about quite possibly fictitious events. Taken together, the stories have tremendous moral meaning, but without needing to "believed" in any literal sense. And those people are still Christians (albeit clearly not fundamentalists, and perhaps, like you, not so comfortable with the dogma of some of the Christian sects).

In other words, you have a lot of company out there. Many people are Christian, without feeling at home with the dogma and tenets of some of the institutional expressions of Christianity. You will find more of them in places like liberal Friends and UU congregations (both of which you might want to check out, because both don't hammer you with dogma, and you will have a community of like-minded people in at least some ways), but even in mainline congregations there are a lot of people who come in spite of, not because of, the dogma.
posted by Forktine at 3:37 AM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Following up puddleglum's recommendation, I would recommend reading Thomas Sheehan's "The First Coming." It's now out of print, but not hard to find on Amazon. Also, "The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity" by Hyam Maccoby is very illuminating. Also out of print. Found mine on

I wish I had an answer for you (it's something I've struggled with). But here's another question. Was the Church wrong about the divinity of Christ? More or less from the beginning? I think that's most likely the case, that 'Christianity' as we know it has been in error since its beginning, and it stems from a complete misunderstanding of not only the message of Jesus, but the nature of Jesus.

I don't allow 'Christians' to define how I see Jesus anymore, and I don't think you should either. In my opinion, they're 180 degrees from being right about him.

I think it's also incredibly likely that in the near future the definition of 'Christian' will become much more broad, to everyone except the most close-minded and uneducated.

I don't believe that Jesus is the 'only begotten Son of God.' But the Sermon on the Mount still moves me. The moral philosophy of Jesus is profound, no matter how the Church has ignored it or twisted it throughout history.
posted by geekhorde at 3:48 AM on April 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

(Speaking of the whole Judaism/Christianity thing, one of the issues that Maccoby deals with is the idea that heavily Helenized Jews and Greeks completely misinterpreted the 'Jesus Movement' [and whatever supernatural event may have occured], and then ran with it, adding a mystery religion spin and aspects of gnosticism. It's a compelling book. Needless to say, Judaism is NOT simply Christianity without Jesus. And that's kind of his point. That Christianity has been misunderstanding but assuming that it understands Judaism from the very beginning.)
posted by geekhorde at 3:53 AM on April 8, 2007

What is a devout Christian to do that doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ?

This is such a self-contradiction... Christians identify themselves as such because of their beliefs. Very interesting statement though. It reveals a lot about your religion.

Do you think that one's beliefs matter in religion, or is religion just a set of rituals that bring people together? What is the foundation of the fulfillment you get from your religion? Is it based on mutual approval, or something more profound?
posted by Laugh_track at 4:53 AM on April 8, 2007

I think that my current state is very similar to yours, psmealey. Personally, I will continue being a member of my PCUSA church, and singing in the choir every Sunday, and reading books, and thinking, and talking to all kinds of people who do and don't agree with the church.

Nobody has asked me to leave even though I am far from orthodox. In fact, they have only loved and welcomed me along with my doubts, questions, and fears. Maybe that's because they think they can convince me, or maybe that's just the kind of people progressive Presbyterians tend to be.

Maybe one day I will figure things out and decide that I really should be a Unitarian, Quaker, or Buddhist, but right now I still get a lot out of the ritual and the sermons and I love the community. I guess I'm saying don't quit just because you don't want to say a certain creed anymore. You should only quit if you're no longer getting whatever you used to get out of it, if you're no longer a contributing member of a community, if it just doesn't work anymore.

(And now I'm off to sing some beautiful music whose theology I don't necessarily agree with.)
posted by hydropsyche at 5:08 AM on April 8, 2007

But I cannot accept the divinity of Jesus. I don't doubt that he lived and walked among our forebears, but I cannot accept the miracles and such as anything more than apocryphal add-ons to consolidate or convince belief in him as a deity.

As SuperNova hinted, you are coming at this from the same direction as most of the Founders. "To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed," wrote Jefferson, "but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other." The last part of that sentence is a clear denial of Christ's divinity.

Jefferson attended church wen he felt like it, why shouldn't you?
posted by LarryC at 5:44 AM on April 8, 2007

When I was a child my family drilled into me that Christians are bound to the Apostle's creed. Verbatim. My grandfather was certain that Biblical verses on Noah's ark, the parting of the Red Sea, etc. were matters of historical fact akin to the Kennedy assassination and the bombing of Hisroshima. I was rather amazed when I stumbled upon my very own sect's foremost theologians like Niebuhr and Tillich and Bultmann and saw them casually tossing around the word "myth".

I have never been inside a church in my life where I was grilled regarding my compliance with the Apostle's creed. The pastor in the pulpit usually mentions it, but he maintains fallibility so all the unbelievers who find themselves in the pews there for whatever reason manage to finesse the issue. For some it is a struggle. For some it is a deal breaker. My guess is that for most of the people in the church it is not a big deal.

Catholics in the real world do birth control, yes?
posted by bukvich at 6:21 AM on April 8, 2007

Do you believe in the Old Testament miracles?

Have you considered trying to find other people who believe the same things you do, and starting your own meeting?

Or - talk to one of the clergy you respect at your current church; he may be able to set your mind at ease one way or the other.
posted by amtho at 6:22 AM on April 8, 2007

You are not a devout Christian. Or a Christian at all. You could be someone undergoing a crisis of faith, you could be a searcher, or you could be the typical Unitarian...

I do have one question-if there is a God (obviously I believe there is, myself) is He capable of miracles? And if Jesus is the Son of God, would HE not be equally capable?

Give it a think.
posted by konolia at 6:32 AM on April 8, 2007

I think it's going to depend on the individual congregation. Some Unitarian Universalist is gross New Age gross. There is a resurgence of Unitarian churches, though, that are more traditional. UU churches in the northeast also tend to be more Episcopalian-y Christian-friendly, as opposed to those in the South (where in some ways they are defined as being Not Christian).

I think that I may have similar religious tendencies as you. Atheist or something similar (Deist? Buddhist?), but identifying strongly with a Christian/Christlike vocabulary. I've looked into Friends and UCC, and both were great and smart and meaningful, though I think I'm just too lazy to bother right now. I would advise trying out different congregations in the faiths listed above, and not ruling out entire religions based on one church.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:37 AM on April 8, 2007

If we're recommending books, try "Lost Christianities" by Bart Erhman. You're not the first Christian to wonder about the nature of the Mysteries.
posted by absalom at 6:51 AM on April 8, 2007

I used to attend Unitarian services and I don't know if that would be the thing for you.

Do you have to believe the miracles as more than a metaphor? I know all the bible colleges force a literal interpretation of the bible, but only you can be certain of your own faith, which is always in development, right? It's not up for judgement, right?

The miracles smack of magic. I don't blame you.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:01 AM on April 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all very much for these thoughtful responses. With regard to phrontist's question, I think the stories in the Old Testament are even more apocryphal (if you'll permit varying degrees of such a thing) than in the New, so that's pretty much out of the question for me. As for being and atheist, or not, I don't really have a good answer for that (does anyone)? I believe in God as conveyed in the Gospels (through the teachings and the messages of Jesus). I believe in redemption through contrition and forgiveness. I believe in acts of mercy, of sacrifice and generosity for the benefit of those less fortunate.

Konolia, all due respect, you may question my devotion as I do not possess your orthodoxy, but I'm, at least in my way, as devout as some.

Thanks again for the advice and assistance.
posted by psmealey at 7:06 AM on April 8, 2007

If you enjoy going to your church, keep going to your church.

Ultimately it doesn't matter what's in our private thoughts;

This is a perfect description. When we talk about "Church", we mean two things: (1) The God stuff (including The Message); (2) The community stuff. I would argue that (2) is more important than (1).

If you don't believe in the divinity of Christ, then you won't be alone in your congregation, or even within your church.

The theory that Christ was just a man—and nothing else—was making theological waves several years ago, and might even have become accepted fact within some Protestant churches.
posted by humblepigeon at 7:06 AM on April 8, 2007

Best answer: Well, you're definitely not an atheist. And I think it's kinda insulting to suggest that you are.

The good news is that the PC(USA) has an entire wing of the denomination in the same boat. So you're probably in the right spot. If not, there's probably a more liberal PC(USA) church down the road, sure as there's a more conservative one, too. It's a big, big tent.

Unitarians come in multiple flavors, too. You have "conservative" churches that are more Deist in nature, and more "liberal" churches that are more Universalist.

I would definitely talk to the pastor. If he/she is good, they will be able to walk with you through this and help you figure out what to do. If they're bad, again, walk down the road.

You might try one of those new "seeker-friendly" churches that have popped up the last decade, but it might be a little much for you. They're friendly. Really friendly.

In the end, it's down to how much effort you want to put into trying to figure out what you believe and reconciling it with your faith and your faith community, and being willing to wait for grace. People far more intelligent and devout than me have been through it, so don't think you're the only one there every Sunday who is not in your boat.

I'm with konolia on one thing, though: In order to call yourself a classical Christian, you have to believe in the divinity of Christ. That doesn't mean you can't be a good person who rescues kittens and Jews from Nazi trees at all. But the classic greeting between Christians on Sunday is "He is risen, He is risen indeed." And classical Christianity says that it's not an incantation but truth. This is why people have made millions in book advances and royalties affirming or denying this very statement ever since Gutenberg fired up his press. And it's not a question of devotion. It's a core tenet of the faith.

But yeah, you're not alone. What it comes down to is how much effort you're willing to put into exploring religion and what you believe. And you have a lot of options, including the church you're currently in. (It at least sounds like they're good people if they're not coming at you with pitchforks.) Be open, be honest with yourself and others, and seek community.
posted by dw at 7:19 AM on April 8, 2007

Response by poster: And it's not a question of devotion. It's a core tenet of the faith.

That's exactly why I posted the question to begin with.
posted by psmealey at 7:25 AM on April 8, 2007

Without a lot more detail on what you enjoy and value about Christianity, it's hard to do much more than brainstorm sects and movements you might agree with. That said, let me throw a few more on the list.

First of all, during the Middle Ages, there was a much stronger mystical streak in the Catholic church than there is now. Check out the Cloud of Unknowing and St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul and work from there. You'll find a lot less talk about Christ's divinity — a lot less talk, in fact, about Christ at all — and a lot more about love, doubt and redemption as experiences that people go through. There have been modern Protestants who have picked up that thread of mystical thought and run with it, but I don't know of any who have founded churches.

You might also look into some of the Orthodox churches. I know less about them, but I've gotten the impression that they're much less hung up on Biblical miracle as historical fact than the Protestants are, and much less interested in magical thinking than the Catholics. (The official take on rituals like baptism and communion is that God can do whatever he wants silently and instantly, but that we with our limitations need a little theater to help us "get it.") Again, there's a strong mystical streak (Google "hesychasm") that focuses on personal experience and intuition rather than belief in the dogmatic sense of the word that Americans tend to use. Depending on what it was that turned you off to Catholicism and how comfortable you are putting yourself through a little culture shock, you might find, say, a Greek Orthodox church to be more agreeable.

(And yeah, do look into the Quakers and UUs. They're the standard MeFi answer to any religious question — apparently even the theophobes here find them non-threatening — but they do each have their own low-Jesus approach to theology.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:36 AM on April 8, 2007

Are you willing to say, "I don't believe in the resurrection, but I'm willing to trust $deity that $deity will get me through and maybe one day I might believe it, and in the meantime hang with these cool people and eat their hot dish suppers?"

If you can, I'd stay, talk to people, and do the work. If not, then you still have plenty of options mentioned above. There's no shame in cutting your losses. In the end, it's between you and your $deity.

Faith is not an easy thing, despite what a number of asses in the Greater Christian Metroplex have been saying the last 2000 years. If this was an easy and clear faith, it would be boring as hell.

I would encourage you to do the work, be honest, and seek community. But it's up to you.
posted by dw at 7:38 AM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, psmealey, you're so beautiful. And I am so blessed to read your thread today of all days. Your faith, concern, seriousness and heartache are so visible in your question. I am moved to tears.

On behalf of your pastor, who is unlikely to read this thread, I beseech you to stay in your church, where your faith and commitment and your pain both show, and are both important, and to speak to your pastor, who will be humbled and honoured to listen to you and to help you.

The finest Christian I know, Art Gish, a member of the Christian Peacemakers who risks his life defending Palestinians in Hebron, is an Arian. His faith and commitment stagger me. He is a follower of Christ's personal example. The man Christ is so important - just as important for the daily life of the Christian as the divine Christ.

The divinity of Christ is important, though, because whosoever believeth in him shall not perish from this earth, but shall have everlasting life. That's his divinity. He's the sacrificed Lamb, he died for my sins and yours. What are your thoughts on salvation through Christ? I think that's more important than the miracles.

Believing in salvation is an act of faith. It's terrifying, counter to science in a wonderful and even humourous way - the more science we know, the harder faith is and the more important it is. God can help you get faith. Ask God to come into your life and give you faith. This is a daily practice and does not happen immediately.

I'm honoured to post in your thread and would love to chat over email some time if you'd like.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:38 AM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh for Christ's sake, of course Christianity without Jesus isn't Judaism. Believing in Judeo-Christian values without believing in Christ, looks like Judaism to me. There are important differences, of course, and I was rather quick and snide with my comment, but when someone seemingly says, "This Jesus guy has a lot of great ideas, but I do not see him as the Messiah of the Old Testament" that is pretty broadly saying your beliefs align more with Judaism than Christianity.

Of course all this was more or less solved a long time ago at the First Council of Nicaea when the divinity of Christ was agreed upon. In 325AD.

So you might not be a "traditional Christian", but I don't go around saying I am a Muslim and it makes it true. You may be a cultural Christian, living in a Christian society and growing up Christian, but mainstream Christianity would not call you a Christian.

I recommend going through the early councils. Your problem is not unique, these were valid struggles in the early church . Go through and read the debates, see if you can come to an understanding on your position.
posted by geoff. at 7:41 AM on April 8, 2007

Sheesh, what's up with the atheist evangelism?
Can't anybody express doubts or concerns about his religion without all of atheists going, yes, that's right, now drink the rest of the kool-aid?
We may be Right, but pouncing on somebody who hasn't expressed an interest in throwing the religion out with the dogma kind of undercuts our rational high-ground. We're proselytizing, and that's not what we want to do.

Q: My car makes a funny noise when it starts on cold mornings -- is it the transmission?
A: Buy a bike!

That said, psmeasley -- as an atheist myself, even I know that the works vs. faith difference in emphasis has a long history in Christianity. There are plenty of people who would say that good works without faith is a legitimate way to serve God, and that you will in time be given faith. CS Lewis had a lot to say about this.

Should you ever want to join us, of course, we are waiting with open arms -- but many Christians have the same doubts you do and resolve them within the church.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:44 AM on April 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

but scientists could be said to believe that science itself is a higher power


Science has multiple meanings. It's a human cultural artifact, a philosophy that rest on induction and explains how to test guesses about the way the world works. On the other hand, it's the body of knowledge humans feel they've got a corner on through the aforementioned method.

Scientists (at least none that I know) would not call "Science" a higher power. It's just some stuff humans believe, stuff they are constantly seeking to refine through challenge.

To a scientist, the distinction of higher power is meaningless. "Powers" being nothing more than human explanations for all the stuff we observe, they're all testable (though perhaps not practically so at the moment) or unknowable (through science).

The debate is whether anything other than science (the method) can lead to truth. But no one is calling science itself a "higher" truth, as this does not make sense.
posted by phrontist at 7:44 AM on April 8, 2007

Also: That redemption of the penitent comes from God's awesome grace - that grace that lets me sit here in my warm house with a loving Better Half instead of dead or in prison. As dw and Methylviolet said, wait for God's grace - forever if need be.

Your post caused me to sit here shivering, overcome by emotion and loudly praising God. You've got "it," whatever it is.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:48 AM on April 8, 2007

Best answer: My parents have been going through this. My dad's flirting with deism, my mom with atheism. They think the miracle stories are silly. They have huge issues with prayer requests. But, they love church. They love the community, the singing, the potlucks, the people. The stories there are familiar to them, the themes resonate with them.

So they found a small country church where the people are friendly and non-judgmental, and they invited the pastor over for lunch, told him what's what, and asked for permission to participate in his church anyway. And he said, of course! You are welcome anytime. No pressure to join, we're glad to have you.

So they go, and they doubt, and they continue to talk to the pastor about these doubts, and he discusses with them but doesn't debate, and they thoroughly enjoy it. And they participate in this community, this reflection of the trinity that shows that God is Communal, and they continue to pursue grace and love and patience.

Because at the end of the day, these are their stories. The Gospels are their culture. These symbols are their symbols. They have sung these songs for decades, and will for decades to come. It's okay to continue on that road, to keep pursuing the beauty you see there, and to keep reclaiming these stories. This is your path. Consider that the basic litmus test in some churches is that you don't hold the message of the Gospels in contempt, that you love and accept these symbols. Don't apologize for that.

Check out Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard for an example of someone absolutely in love with the Gospels who also rejects some very basic tenets of the faith. There's beauty lurking there.
posted by heatherann at 7:50 AM on April 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

P.S. Real Live Preacher is also good.
posted by heatherann at 7:54 AM on April 8, 2007

If Unitarians seem a little too "New Agey" or vague for your taste, you might considering visiting a local United Church of Christ. My experience with them (occasional attendance with my ex and his mother in the 90s) was that the UCC was not particularly dogmatic. Nonetheless they seemed to preserve and celebrate the best aspects of their tradition: Congregationalists, the Reformed Church, and others denominations that merged into the UCC. IIRC, the one we went to in Carlsbad, CA used to have study groups that talked about the same issues mentioned in your original post.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:02 AM on April 8, 2007

...when someone seemingly says, "This Jesus guy has a lot of great ideas, but I do not see him as the Messiah of the Old Testament" that is pretty broadly saying your beliefs align more with Judaism than Christianity.

A lot of Jesus' allegedly great ideas were reversals or changes to mandates from the "old" testament. Jews don't believe that those changes are valid. For example, the idea of "turning the other cheek" is a Christian one, not a Jewish one. The whole concept of a unified set of "Judeo-Christian" values doesn't hold up to inspection.

It's just that so many modern-day Jews and Christians actually share a set of values more endemic to the culture of their country or city than derived directly from their holy texts. So there is a vague idea that, because Jews and Christians live so well together in middle-class harmony, they must be sharing a core set of "Judeo-Christian values."
posted by bingo at 8:05 AM on April 8, 2007

You aren't a hypocrite for taking part in any kind of community unless you actively wish ill on that community, and it's very clear that you don't have that view towards your church. Nor would you be acting hypocritically if you also started sampling other faiths or enjoying some vigorous drinking sessions with committed atheists.

The only kinds of community that would believe you to be acting hypocritically because you don't sign up to their beliefs with absolute certainty are fundamentalists. That's pretty much the definition of fundamentalism. And they would be wrong.

An anti-fundamentalist is the only thing I think everyone should be.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:40 AM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Forktine is wise:
In theory, to be Roman Catholic, one is supposed to give the Pope a lot of credence, right? But in practice, if the Catholic church kicked out everyone who thinks that Benedict XVI is a nice enough guy but isn't divinely inspired, the pews would empty out pretty fast.

I work in a Catholic K-12 school and talk with a lot of students in a small group atmosphere where they really get to talk about their faith and concerns with the Church. I can't begin to count how many times I get the, "Well, yea, I believe in God, but I have a lot of problems with stuff in the Church." As shown in this thread and my personal experience with people raised as Cradle Catholics, you are far from alone. To follow that up:

Catholics in the real world do birth control, yes?

Yes, very much so. Birth control, sex, the whole gamut- I see and hear about it often enough. It's called sin (OK, let's just say sex outside of marriage is sin to make the following point) and one of the main reasons I'm still Christian is because of the overwhelmingly message of Forgiveness in the Gospels. Everyone f's up in their lives, and be an atheist or God-fearing Bible beater, I have a hard time believing anyone isn't saved based on Salvation history. It's beautiful and gives me solace that though I disagree with parts of the Church and my best friends aren't Christian that God still forgives us.

There are plenty of people who would say that good works without faith is a legitimate way to serve God, and that you will in time be given faith. CS Lewis had a lot to say about this.

CS Lewis is the man, and I certainly pray God agrees. As I mentioned above, most of my good friends don't proclaim themselves to be Christian. Ironically enough, they perform more good works than most of the hard-core Catholics I know. Go figure.

So, no, don't give it up. You sound exactly like the person I tend to surround myself with. The person who critically thinks about their life and faith and doesn't take things at face value. At the same time, I find people who question things help in effect to really strengthen other's faith by making us thinking about it. Whereas a faith purely built on faith and no personal struggles doesn't always have the strongest foundation and can crumble easily in conflict, faith built upon reason and scars tends to have the fortitude and foundation to persevere. And if we fail? Heck, the Apostles failed like they'd never never met Jesus plenty enough. Surely that gives us some wiggle room?
(By the way, great question for Easter Sunday!)
posted by jmd82 at 9:36 AM on April 8, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed - STOP IT - derails about religion or atheism or all the other shit these threads invariably attract goes to METATALK
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:42 AM on April 8, 2007

Have you thought about joining a group (at your church or elsewhere) that studies the Bible together, and (this is the really important part) tries to apply what it says? I have found that this has drastically shaped my understanding of who God is and who Jesus is, and is a much different and richer experience than simply reading the Bible on your own and thinking about it on the theoretical level.
posted by jpdoane at 9:54 AM on April 8, 2007

i was in the exact same position you are several years ago. the end result is that i found myself 'setting aside' my chriatian beliefs--that is, accept the prima facade of good acts and intentions, yet ignore the deeper aspects of the divinity angle. the teachings of jesus are very enlightening, but one doesn't have to accept his divinity to respect his teachings.

as a result of my thinking, i beccame an athiest. i still respect christianity, and learn from it ... but i don't consider myself one of them. i don't take communion or participate in affirming activities anymore.

but i still go to church. just came from there a few minutes ago. i actually volunteer to assist the services. i find the presence of so many people seeing spirtual guidence and possibly achieving peace, i can't but help to be a participant. none of memebers of the church have no idea that, to me, jesus was just a man, and that the bible is simply another mythological document.

if you are smart enough to ask this question in the first place, then you know you won't find the answer here.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:27 AM on April 8, 2007

Response by poster: CS Lewis is the man, and I certainly pray God agrees.

I've read a ton of Lewis over the years. It was actually in reading him that precipitated my first crisis. It was basically this thing he terms "Sheilaism". Sheila was a woman he knew that took the à la carte approach to Anglicanism. She accepted what she agreed with, ignored what she didn't and structured her own faith on this basis.

Lewis takes are hard line on this in his writings. He believes that Sheilaism is apostasy. He believes that you need to swallow the whole thing in order to truly be redeemed. He didn't care which particular demonination you chose, whether RC, CofE, Methodist, Presby, etc., but you had to accept your chosen denomination's dictates and dogma: all of it.

This is what continues to cause me such terrible uneasiness today.

I was very uncomfortable with Catholicism from an early age, because a lot of the rituals and practices struck me as internal contradictions, some superstition, and quite a few others as out and out idolatry. When the initial reports of sex abuse came out some years ago, and the Church ignored it, that was pretty much the last straw for me. I was done with Roman Catholicism.

When I started reading up on Calvin, Zwingli and Knox, at least in terms of how the Gospels should be interpreted, I had found kindred spirits intellectually/theologically. The faith made more sense to me than anything had before, and thought I had found a home.

Yet, I had always maintained a deep mistrust of the miracles in the Bible. That the Old Testament is chock full of great stories to explain creation and provide moral and ethical framework, but it seemed to me to be written for an unsophisticated and pre-literate population that who could only understand a God as an anthropomorphic, omnipotent, vengeful force, and that good behavior could only be encouraged through fear of punishment, death and eternal damnation.

But once you start question some of the good book, eventually you start questioning all of it. When I look at this nonsense today of the Vatican needing to come up with miracles to enable canonization of John Paul II, it makes me wonder how many other falsehoods have been propagated these past two millennia. That perhaps Jesus was a powerful and important figure, who was able to distill generations of Jewish law and classical philosophy and a few concise speeches and parables, but that his divine elements (the miracles, the resurrection) were concocted by early Church leaders to provide evidence for his divinity. After all, if Jesus had risen from the dead, why would he not have appeared to Pilate or the Pharisees, and/or others still on the fence, and only to the disciples?

At any rate, I think you know where I'm going, and what I need to think about further. And I again thank you all so much for your help.
posted by psmealey at 11:36 AM on April 8, 2007

Anyway, I found another Wikipedia article that might apply, on nontrinitarianism in general.
posted by davy at 11:48 AM on April 8, 2007

Wonderful question and thread - I'm going through some similar issues, and I value a lot of the advice.

Basically, to reiterate what many have said, do know that within a particular religion and/or church, there is a wide range of differing beliefs about the various aspects. I know a wonderful, intelligent, highly devout Roman Catholic priest who is pro-choice. What's important is that you come with love and an open mind, and are willing to think and challenge yourself. Trust me, there are many people who go to church each Sunday and claim to believe in the divinity of Jesus, but don't put a moment of thought into their spiritual life.

A note about UU and Quaker services: judging from your Roman Catholic background, I would imagine that the ritual and traditions within mass are a desirable part of your church experience. You may not get that from those services. I personally found UU services too unstructured, and Quaker meetings just made me antsy. YMMV, of course, and I'm sure not all of the groups are the same.

Finally, I would highly recommend reading some Anne Lamott. She came to her Christian faith after a long and hard road, and has found a way to meld it with her fiercely left-wing, environmentalist beliefs. It has a very organic feel, and I think it's a great practical example of how to really be faithful in today's world.

Good luck!
posted by sarahsynonymous at 11:54 AM on April 8, 2007

FWIW, I don't think Unitarian Universalism would be a great fit in my present context - I still consider myself a Christian, although I'm a bit uncomfortable admitting it, because of some of the dogma that I can't go along with.

You're perfectly welcome to be a Christian and a Unitarian. In my UU church -- and they do vary -- Jesus is mentioned every now in then, in the context of "Jesus the teacher." There is no official stance on if Jesus was the son of God.

But, as Robert Angelo said, you might like UCC, AKA Unitarians Considering Christ...
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:36 PM on April 8, 2007

Lewis takes are hard line on this in his writings. He believes that Sheilaism is apostasy. He believes that you need to swallow the whole thing in order to truly be redeemed. He didn't care which particular demonination you chose, whether RC, CofE, Methodist, Presby, etc., but you had to accept your chosen denomination's dictates and dogma: all of it.

To me, that's 'tiger repellent' dogmatism, though it's particularly suited for someone who spent most of his adult life at two academic institutions where 'change' is a dirty word.

Thomas Sheehan has been mentioned upthread, and he makes the point that during the Vatican II period, most people involved in academic theology and biblical history from the Catholic tradition were comfortable making the distinction between history and myth. An institutional shift towards conservatism, combined with the literalist squeeze of other denominations, has changed that.

I've been listening to Sheehan's lectures on the Historical Jesus (via the Stanford iTunes collection) and it's actually reignited my interest in what you might call 'Jefferson's Jesus' because it strips away (or explicates) the encrustations that are necessary to turn a movement into a religion. It's more satisfying to me than the reductive village-atheism of Dawkins and Harris.
posted by holgate at 1:18 PM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Congratulations, you're Jewish! Read the Torah.

Seriously though, Nthing Unitarian Universalism. Or Buddhism. Or Judaism, really. Sounds like you have a lot of reading to do.

Check out some Alan Watts if Buddhism appeals to you. Maybe read the book Einstein and Religion for a there-is-no-god-but-there-is-in-a-way point of view.

OR, heres an even better idea (the one you suggested your self): find a new way of looking at Christianity. God knows I have. Nobody else can really tell you how to do that... It's kinda one of those things you have to figure out on your own for it to mean anything. A good place to start would be to seek out some gnostic scriptures, the dead sea scrolls, and some pre-King James versions of the new testament (you know, before they added all the magical stuff).

In the end, they say all roads lead to the same place. Just pick the one with the scenery you enjoy the most. In your case, maybe that would be staying at your current church that you obviously enjoy, but quietly forming your own belief system? If they're as cool and open minded as you say they are, they won't think you're a hypocrite.
posted by tipthepizzaguy at 1:44 PM on April 8, 2007

psmealey, I really think that this is the best question I have ever seen on AskMe. I have been an atheist during much of my life because, like you (I think), I could not reconcile God and especially Christ with my modern, rational understanding of how the universe works. The problem for me is that Atheism left me with an empty place that I could not fill. Here is the a simplified version of the thought process that helped me somewhat resolve my crisis of faith:
  1. From my experience, God does not directly meddle in the affairs of Man (or Woman).
  2. If God is all-knowing and we are his children, then He either doesn't care about us or He is not all-knowing.
  3. I choose to believe that this means that God is not all knowing.
  4. If God is not all-knowing then He must either not exist or must exist with a finite intelligence and ability to influence the universe
  5. From my experience with my empty feeling, I choose to believe that He does exist
  6. Since I have chosen to believe that there is a God, I believe that He manifests Himself as what I call the "Force of Good" or the "Inner Light"
Now that I figured out my own understanding of God, I turn to Jesus Christ:
  1. Jesus was a man who existed in the past
  2. Partially through His works (not so much the miracle stuff, I don't really believe that either) and more so through his teachings about peace and love, Jesus was more "in tune" with the nature of God as posited above than most people
  3. I believe that this puts Jesus in the same league as The Buddha and others
  4. Since Jesus was more in tune with the Spirit of God, he was "more divine" than the rest of us, but the teachings of The Buddha seem to demonstrate that he was not the "only begotten son" of God.
  5. Since Jesus was more divine than I am, His life and teachings are worthy of emulation, but no more so than others who were (or are) enlightened.
  6. I'm sure that anyone who really knows their way around ethical arguments could drive a truck through my logic, but it works for me to form a balance between the rational and the divine. I humbly offer it, not as any kind of definitive guide but more in hopes that it may help you in your journey of Faith.

posted by SteveTheRed at 2:39 PM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry to all: I didn't realize that the ol an li tags would double-space!
posted by SteveTheRed at 2:40 PM on April 8, 2007

Such an interesting thread.

I was raised RC as well; married an ELCA Lutheran. We went to Lutheran services today - the first Easter in my lifetime I didn't attend Mass.

I struggle with that. What I love about our ELCA congregation is the people. It's a smallish congregation that absolutely feels like home. I love the music. I love that the kids play percussion. I love that they are involved in the community and with each other. And it's a very Catholic Lutheran church - there is a full liturgy, even at the contemporary service we attend, and there is communion every week. If I took my parents there without letting them see the name of the place, they might not even notice the difference.

But it is missing some of the trappings of Catholiscim. And the theology is different - in some ways I think are semantic, and in others that are not.

But the point is, I go to this church every week, unsure about what I believe, but understanding that I am comfortable there in ways that I'm not in any of the Catholic churches I've attended in our new town. It is filled with people that I feel connected to and with many ways to actually "do good" -- something I feel is important. I've discussed my feelings with the pastor at legnth. And he has told me, more than once, that even though I do not sign the covenant of the church (essentialy, I am not a "full member"), that he considers himself my pastor, and will treat me just like the other members. And that struggling to understand what you believe is okay, and not believing everything the same way everyone else does is okay, and that being engaged with the "life of the church" is what matters.

So, talk to your pastor. If he or she doesn't make you feel comfortable, find another church where the pastor does. Faith is hard. Happy Easter -- Jesus might be divine, or Lord, or risen, or none of those things, but certainly a church is a good place to start working through what you believe.

And, interestingly, our pastor preached about a book by N.T. Wright this morning. He said that in The Ressurection of the Son of God, Wright comes to two conclusions: first, that there is no proof that Jesus was risen from the dead, but second, that there is proof that the writers of the Gosepels truly believed that Jesus was risen from the dead, and that this belief changed their lives. Those are interesting conclusions to me -- some day I may make it through the 700+ pages to see how he gets there.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:07 PM on April 8, 2007

Lewis takes are hard line on this in his writings. He believes that Sheilaism is apostasy. He believes that you need to swallow the whole thing in order to truly be redeemed. He didn't care which particular demonination you chose, whether RC, CofE, Methodist, Presby, etc., but you had to accept your chosen denomination's dictates and dogma: all of it.

But denominations change over time, no? And someone is the agent of change who challenges the prevailing tenets of the denomination. Ask Galileo. Ask John XXIII and the participants in Vatican II. There is certainly room to defend a tradition of "faithful dissent," if that's the right wording.

I'm writing that from the perspective of another "cradle Catholic" who discovered himself to be gay. I migrated from Dignity (RC gay ministry condemned in the 80s by then-Cardinal Ratzinger) through toying with Episcoplianism to simply being "open" and no longer needing to place words and labels on my belief. At this point, I just live, and in being strive to be the best I can. And no, I haven't been to church in years, but I respect sincere persons of faith.

My mother was not Catholic, by the way. She never went to church at all, although she was nominally Presbyterian. When asked about this, she always recited this poem by Emily Dickinson, ending with:
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I ’m going all along!
I spent Easter weekend visiting her, now age 83, in the hospital in San Antonio. She's been laid up and away from her apartment since December, and I'm the semi-long-distance caregiver. Guess I'm with her, in this regard: I'm also "going all along."
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:11 PM on April 8, 2007

N.T. Wright was mentioned above. I would add a recommendation for the books of John Shelby Spong, former bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Newark, N.J.

Marcus Borg is also well worth reading.
posted by bryon at 5:12 PM on April 8, 2007

Lewis takes are hard line on this in his writings. He believes that Sheilaism is apostasy. He believes that you need to swallow the whole thing in order to truly be redeemed. He didn't care which particular demonination you chose, whether RC, CofE, Methodist, Presby, etc., but you had to accept your chosen denomination's dictates and dogma: all of it.

Fair enough. However, I also don't think one needs to be a part of an established denomination to be Christian, either. Looking back, I went a little overboard in my love of Lewis.
posted by jmd82 at 5:55 PM on April 8, 2007

"I'm with konolia on one thing, though: In order to call yourself a classical Christian, you have to believe in the divinity of Christ. That doesn't mean you can't be a good person who rescues kittens and Jews from Nazi trees at all. But the classic greeting between Christians on Sunday is "He is risen, He is risen indeed." And classical Christianity says that it's not an incantation but truth. This is why people have made millions in book advances and royalties affirming or denying this very statement ever since Gutenberg fired up his press. And it's not a question of devotion. It's a core tenet of the faith." wrote DW.

Well, no.

What we now call 'Christian' certainly means what you say, but it wasn't always the case. There were other 'Christianities' that believed radically different things about Jesus, and they grew out of the same movement that gave birth to Pauline Christianity. The thing is, Pauline Christianity exterminated the heterodox Christianities. That's why 'Christian' means 'person who believes in the divinity of Jesus' to most people today.

And it doesn't have to be that way. Words mean what we want them to mean. If someone follows the moral and ethical philosophy of Jesus, but doesn't believe the dogma written by the Church about him, then I would say that they're still a Christian.

In some ways, we have to look at this as being about entrenched power and the desire of religious authorities to define terms and dialog. It's always been that way. If it's impossible to even be considered 'Christian' and to question the divinity of Jesus at the same time, then the Church squelches dissenting viewpoints and heterodox ideas almost by default.
posted by geekhorde at 7:32 PM on April 8, 2007

I think you ask a good question - and one that more people attending 'mainline' denominations ask themselves than want to admit. When I stopped interpreting the Bible as literal and inerrant, it caused a lot of confusion in my faith. Heck, I am still confused. Right after the divinity of Christ there's the bodily resurrection and a host of other issues. I have sorted that one out by saying - I believe in the resurrection of J.C., but not his resusitation.

I too want to retain the belief system of Christianity. But I also want to stay in a Protestant denomination. I was in Prez and am now United Meth. That's why I haven't turned to Unitarian. I have found several authors helpful - but top of the list is Marcus Borg. His latest book is called Jesus and talks about how to look at Scripture in the historical/cultural context it was written and yet, not lose the meaningfulness of the message. The Bible is at the core human people trying to best understand something bigger, something 'other' than themselves.

Another book I am reading now is called The Dishonest Church. It addresses the concern of people learning one set of information in seminary, but then preach a more congregation-friendly, traditional message from the pulpit. Donald Crossen, John Shelby Spong, The Progressive Christian magazine, The 4th R magazine, and Progressive Christians Uniting based in Southern California have all been helpful resources as I am continuing to learn and grow in faith as a Christian.
posted by Ainoko at 10:21 PM on April 8, 2007

Become an Ethical Culturist

I was born and raised Jewish (a Bar Mitzvah boy), but was sent first to a Unitarian school, then an Ethical Culturist one. While I am very culturally Jewish (being from New York helps), I consider myself agnostic and like to identify myself as an Ethical Culturist. The site and a Sunday meeting are definitely worth checking out, though admittedly I rarely, if ever, go to either one.
posted by Cochise at 11:35 PM on April 8, 2007

As early as in the 4th there wer people who believe (or doubt) like you do (see Arian heresy). Their ideas never became part of accepted church doctrine (see Council of Nicea) which is why, nowadays, your ideas are the exception rather than the norm.
posted by rjs at 4:27 AM on April 9, 2007

You definitely need to read you some C.S. Lewis before making up your mind on this one (although from your "best answers," perhaps you already have)...

I'll give you a bit of a head-start though:

"Jesus… told people that their sins were forgiven… This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic- on the level of a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:37 AM on April 9, 2007

(... there were people who believed (or doubted) as you do...)

To try and answer your question a bit better than in my previous post: I don't think doubting the divinity of Jesus necessarily makes you a non-Christian. It may place your beliefs outside of the accepted doctrine in some (or even most) Christian churches, and how you deal with that depends on you and on the church that you're in. If you're a member of a fundamentalist church, leaving may be the best option, since staying might involve a great deal of pretending to believe things that you don't.
posted by rjs at 9:49 AM on April 9, 2007

*read you some more
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2007

Allkindsoftime beat me out on the Lewis quote (actually, it's "on the level of a man who believes himself to be a poached egg") and it's one of my favorites. I do believe Jesus was divine, and while I think that's the most important part of him as far as salvation is concerned, I don't think its especially the most important part of the Christian experience. After all, salvation, if it is real, is only meaningful after physical death. We have a lot of life to get through before then! I think that's why Jesus taught both a way of getting along in this world and provided grace for getting along in the next.

If C.S. Lewis really felt you had to swallow everything your denomination throws at you for redemption, I think he's wrong. I belong to a medium-sized PC(USA) congregation and I certainly don't swallow the whole PC(USA) line, but I wouldn't change churches for the world.

My biggest problem with my own faith isn't the divinity of Jesus or the reality of the miracles, but with a great deal of what St. Paul brought to the faith and how the founders of the church swallowed it.

psmealey, don't give up on your church or in your seeking. As many here have said, there are more than likely others in your very congregation who have similar thoughts. If nothing else, your church is a community, and you are a part of it, and there's no reason you shouldn't continue to be. I sometimes have to stay silent when my own non-orthodoxy is piqued, but I don't feel I'm living a lie by doing so. You shouldn't need to either.
posted by lhauser at 2:44 PM on April 9, 2007

Become a theologian!

It sounds like you're an intelligent person. Your discomfort with the claims of your religious institution is normal.

As a theologian, you can discuss the skepticism you have with other people in a rational discourse. Your job is to learn all about religion, spirituality, and God or gods. You will learn about history, philosophy, geography, anthropology, economics, et cetera. It will be a fulfilling lifelong experience that will take you places you never expected. In short: never stop learning. Leave the dogma for the intellectually lazy.
posted by mullingitover at 8:21 PM on April 9, 2007

After all, salvation, if it is real, is only meaningful after physical death.

Whoa. I'll refrain from saying something best said in MeTa, but recommend NT Wright again for a different perspective. I liked Lewis growing up, and he's been instrumental in a lot of the growth, logic and symbolism of the Western church in the 20th century, but Wright rises up to challenge some of the logic and naive realism, sketching out a schema of the worldview, hopes and beliefs of those who lived in this time.
As good creational monotheists, [1st-century] Jews were not hoping to escape from the present universe into some Platonic realm of eternal bliss enjoyed by disembodied souls after the end of the space-time universe...They hoped not to 'go to heaven', or at least not permanently, but to be raised to new bodies when the kingdom came, since they would of course need new bodies to enjoy the very much this-worldly shalom, peace and prosperity that was in store.
The New Testament and the People of God, p.286. (emphasis in original)
Echoing mullingitover - Become a theologian! ...In short: never stop learning. Leave the dogma for the intellectually lazy.
posted by puddleglum at 9:57 AM on April 10, 2007

Just found this - a friend, who is an ordained minister, admits that she only "sometimes" believes that Jesus was actually God. You may find a kindred spirit in her.
I think the story of Jesus as God is true—maybe not factual per se, but true in its core and in its being. It’s true and beautiful enough for me, an intelligent thinking person to build my life around it. Jesus has merit. His life as a radical and a lover, an activist and a healer, is bedrock to who and whose I am. It works for me as a meta-narrative. It inspires me.
posted by puddleglum at 10:56 AM on April 10, 2007

It's my considered opinion that theology is pointless. It strikes me as an inherently intellectually dishonest game, and hazardous to the maintenance of faith. If your faith in any particular item of dogma has gone, you might be able to prop it up with apologetic bandaids; OTOH, you might find that picking at it makes it worse.
posted by flabdablet at 7:21 PM on April 10, 2007

« Older Biofeedback. What's the deal?   |   Non random randomness. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.